The Colgate Scene
March 2004

Perry B. Duryea 1921-2004

By almost any measure, trustee emeritus Perry B. Duryea '42, H'93 was a fortunate man, born into a family of means, blessed with intelligence, charm, and talent, who enjoyed great success in business and politics. He was also a witty raconteur with a zest for life, an avid outdoorsman, and an accomplished pilot who often flew to Hamilton for meetings of the Board of Trustees. But to those who knew him well, what made Duryea special was his character.

"He was one of the most upright, straight-shooting people I've ever met," said Harrington "Duke" Drake '41. "I think he had more friends than anyone I've ever known."

Duryea died on January 11 as the result of injuries suffered in an auto accident the previous week. He had been scheduled to join Drake and former astronaut Walter Schirra for a hunting trip at Duryea's farm in eastern Maryland the week after the accident.

Duryea was a nine-term member of the New York State Assembly and was one of its most powerful Republicans during the 1960s and 1970s. He was assembly speaker from 1969 through 1973, and minority leader from 1966 through 1968 and again from 1974 to 1978.

Duryea gave up his seat to run for governor in 1978, losing to Democratic incumbent Hugh Carey. The unsuccessful campaign for governor was his last foray into politics. He also ran a seafood distribution business, Perry B. Duryea & Son, on Long Island.

But while in Albany, Duryea worked with political giants such as Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller to shepherd important legislation that proliferated state parks and the state university system. He also helped champion the construction of the Long Island Expressway.

Gov. George Pataki said Duryea "was a kind, decent, and honorable man who served the people of New York and especially the citizens of Long Island with great distinction for more than four decades."

Pataki recalled appearing alongside Duryea and his family last October when the Suffolk County state office building was dedicated in Duryea's name.

"May it serve as a lasting tribute to the significant contributions he made during his long and distinguish-ed career in public service to all New Yorkers," Pataki said.

Trustee emeritus Warren Anderson '37, whose father served in the state senate with Duryea's father, was state senate majority leader when Duryea was speaker.

"He was intelligent, he had drive, and he had a willingness to work hard." Anderson said. "He was a very effective speaker. He understood that for a legislative leader to really be effective, he had to be able to work with members of the other party."

Duryea was born and raised in Montauk, N.Y., where his family's wholesale and retail seafood business, Perry B. Duryea & Son, Inc., is still located. After graduating from Colgate with honors in economics, Duryea joined the Navy, where he attained the rank of lieutenant commander while serving as a pilot in the United States Naval Transport Service ferrying bombers to the Pacific theater of operations during World War II.

After the war, Duryea entered the family business and is credited with expanding its revenues by importing lobsters from Maine and Nova Scotia.

Duryea served three terms (1967-73, 1976-82, and 1984-92) totaling 23 years on the Board of Trustees, more than anyone in university history. He was a trustee when the board made some of the most significant decisions in university history, including the decision to admit women as students. After leaving public office, Duryea devoted countless hours to Colgate, including chairing the Special Committee on Residential Life in his last term.

"I considered him not only a close friend, but also a kind of Rock of Gibraltar because his advice was always good," said E. Garrett "Garry" Bewkes '48, a former chairman of the Board of Trustees who appointed Duryea to chair the SCRL. "He had a balanced temperament. Perry never got angry or agitated. He was always cool."

Those aspects of Duryea's character were crucial to his ability to lead the committee's business, said fellow SCRL member John E. Gillick '67, who presented Duryea when he received an honorary degree from Colgate in 1993.

"It was a tough committee. There was a high level of tension," Gillick said. "He had a very keen political sense in terms of understanding the issues that were extant and the positions of the various groups [involved]. Perry certainly had the respect of all concerned in these highly spirited meetings. He was absolutely the perfect guy to lead the committee."

Duryea also put his sense of humor and considerable social skills to good use as toastmaster, serving as master of ceremonies for a number of university events, including fundraising campaign kickoff events in 1984 and 1994.

A member of Delta Upsilon fraternity, Duryea also served on the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors from 1967 to 1973, and received the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 1972.

"He was very generous; you could always depend on him," said Bert Ryder, president of the Class of 1942 and a former secretary to the Board of Trustees. "If Colgate asked for help, he was ready to pitch in. He was a top-notch person."

Duryea is survived by his wife, Trace; a son, Perry "Chip" Duryea III '71, a daughter, Lynn Duryea, and two grandchildren, including Amy Duryea '99.

"He was the finest man I've ever known," said Drake.

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