All Recall Former Mayor’s Vitality, Civic Duty, Humor
Jim Georgeson, 1919-2014
By LIBBY CUDMORE
Edition of Friday, Nov. 14, 2014
When Sam Nader succeeded Jim Georgeson as mayor in 1960, he found nothing that Georgeson had left behind. “I said to him, ‘You didn’t even leave me a sheet of paper’!” recalled Nader. “And he said, ‘I knew you were smart enough that you could figure it out’!”
Georgeson, 95, died Wednesday, Oct. 22, at The Otsego Manor, three days before the sitting Mayor Dick Miller’s unexpected passing. But he was remembered by 200 family members and friends at a service on Saturday, Nov. 8, at Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono as a man who loved the community.
“He was a good counselor,” said David Brenner, SUNY Oneonta vice president emeritus, whose office across the hall when Georgeson served as the college’s director of community relations. “If you had a problem, he would give you good advice.”
Born in Oneonta in 1919, Georgeson lived most of his life here, although he graduated from Norwich High School in 1937. “He would always brag that he was part of the undefeated football team there,” said Tony Drago, the retired OHS coach and athletic director.
Georgeson began his education at Hartwick College, but when World War II broke out he joined the Army Air Corps and served as a supervising officer in Tyndall Field in Panama City, Fla. Though he was discharged in 1946, he remained active with the Air Force Reserves until 1969, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. “He stayed in as long as they would let him!” said Drago.
In 1959, he was elected mayor on the Democratic ticket at a time when Republicans outnumbered Democrats two to one. “He worked across the aisles,” said Brenner. “If someone brought him an issue, he would say, ‘I’m going to check with a few people, because this affects them too’ rather than just confronting the issue head-on. He would tell people who came to him, ‘I won’t forget you, don’t worry,’ and take the message there personally.”
And although he was only in office for two years – he was the last mayor to serve in this term – he started applying for many of the programs and grants that would begin Oneonta’s urban renewal. “He helped secure grants for housing and infrastructure,” said Brenner. “The new water treatment plant needed money, so he went to Albany and got that from the state.”
But even more than mayor, he was remembered as the city’s predominant master of ceremonies. “If you went to an event and he didn’t refer to you at least once, you didn’t belong in Oneonta,” said Tony Drago. “He could play a crowd like nobody could.”
For 20 years, he was in demand as the emcee at fundraisers, banquets and dinners. “He always had a zinger,” said Brenner. “He’d pick out something that happened to you 20 years ago, something you hoped people would forget, and he’d zing you for it!”
But just as he could dish out a jab, he could take it too. “One time he lost control of his lawn tractor and drove it right into Goodyear Lake,” said Drago. “Nobody ever let him forget that!”
His active citizenship wasn’t limited to his stint in City Hall. He was president or board chairman of the Greater Oneonta Chamber of Commerce, Oneonta YMCA Board of Directors, Oneonta Kiwanis Club, Hartwick College Alumni Association, Oneonta City Democratic Committee, the Community Chest (now the United Way) and Parent Teacher Organizations of Center Street and Oneonta Junior High Schools.
In 2003, he and his wife, Charlotte, were honored by the Future for Oneonta Foundation as Mr. and Mrs. Oneonta, as well as Hartwick College Outstanding Citizen and service awards from SUNY and the YMCA.
He was also honored with a street named in his honor. James Georgeson Avenue, which runs through Neahwa Park, was renamed from Gas Avenue. “We told him that was a perfect street for him, because he was so full of it!” said Drago.
“He was a first-rate citizen,” said Brenner. “You couldn’t ask for a better person.”