Remembering Frank Jones
Frank R. Jones, former Republican supervisor of the Town of Islip and former chief deputy county executive in Suffolk, passed away on Friday, June 22 at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 88.
According to family, Jones died of complications from diverticulitis and other health problems he had been battling.
Jones, who earlier in life resided in Blue Point and later became a longtime resident of Sayville, was a politician who was known for his pithy quotes, no-nonsense manner and dedication to clean government. He fought to shut down the Shoreham nuclear power plant, built housing for low-income people, battled corruption in the Southwest Sewer District, and gained fame during Islip’s international Garbage Barge saga of the late 1980s.
Jones and his longtime political teammate, Peter Fox Cohalan, brought a progressive bent to their work, first in Islip in the 1970s and later in Suffolk County. Jones initially served as Cohalan’s deputy in Islip and Suffolk, and then served as Islip supervisor from 1987 to 1993.
In an article that appeared in this newspaper last summer (“You can thank Frank,” Aug. 31, 2017) when the Town of Islip dedicated the park at the end of Foster Avenue in Sayville to Jones, Cohalan was quoted, saying Jones “was the best public administrator I ever met.”
“He was a personal friend before a political ally. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s been a lot of fun,” said Judge Cohalan after his passing.
Cohalan said that in addition to the marina that’s now in his name, Jones was responsible for creating the Holbrook Country Club. “He’s left his mark on Islip Town.”
One of Jones’s most memorable moments in politics was during the Garbage Barge saga, when a barge full of garbage from Islip could not find a place to be dumped, and for months was towed up and down the East Coast and even into waters off Mexico as the media followed its plight. The episode garnered international attention and became a symbol of the debate over the planet’s excessive production of garbage.
It eventually led Jones to create a recycling program in Islip that became a model for many other communities and launched the successful program Keep Islip Clean. “It was an interesting time,” recalled Jones when this newspaper recounted that time in Islip history in the article, “Revisiting the Islip Garbage Barge” (July 12, 2012) upon the 25th anniversary of that incident.
As chief deputy in Suffolk, Jones led a fight against the LILCO power company to put a stop to the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Jones argued that it would be impossible to evacuate Long Island in the event of a nuclear meltdown.
In 1978, when he was serving as deputy supervisor in Islip, then-Suffolk executive John Klein brought him in to clean up the Southwest Sewer Project, a multi-million-dollar public project riddled with corruption.
Jones’s family recalled how he had to deal with reputed mob-controlled cement and construction companies during his work on the project. Once, an FBI agent wearing a wire visited him while the family was vacationing on Fire Island to see if Jones was on the take. At the end of the visit, the agent revealed who he was and explained that he was testing Jones. Another FBI agent later told him, “We can’t find anything on you,” and that their probing was done.
Jones built the College Woods affordable housing development, 400 privately owned units in Central Islip that was one of the largest such projects at the time. Jones told the Suffolk County News last August that the neighborhood was riddled with “murders and drug dealing. The police couldn’t do anything because the drug dealers used 14-year-olds in their operations.” The housing project moved the crime lords out, and the development became something of a model.
Jones enlisted in the Navy and served during the Korean War. After the war, he enrolled at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he met his future wife, Claire.
After graduation, Jones worked as an engineer, handling the installation of air conditioning systems at places including St. Lawrence the Martyr R.C. Church in Sayville. He eventually earned a B.A. and an M.A. in public administration at Long Island University-Post, where he then also taught.
Jones’s passion for politics was evident early on in his long, provocative letters to the Suffolk County News on various issues including the environment, zoning and development. The letters gained him fame as something of a local Ralph Nader-type figure. And the letters continued into his retirement as he continued to opine on local issues that impassioned and sometimes inflamed him.
Outside his work in government, Jones was active in the local community. He served as commodore of the Sayville Yacht Club, coached and umpired in the Sayville Little League, and promoted sports in the local schools.
As a government leader, he was known as a demanding, tough but fair public official. At the park dedication last summer, former Islip employees who had worked with him decades earlier donned T-shirts that jokingly said, “I survived Frank Jones.”
“He was a great man,” Cohalan remarked. “A truly great man.”
Besides his wife Claire of 60 years, Jones is survived by his sons, Bart Jones of Blue Point and Matt Jones of Bellport; his daughters, Allison Jones of Washington, D.C., and Brette Jones-Hospedales of La Quinta, Calif.; his nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service in New York is planned for September, with details to follow.
~ Compiled by Liz Finnegan
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