Mystic - Dorothy (Soest) McCluskey, 84, a former Connecticut legislator who helped preserve some of New England's most beautiful open spaces, died on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Mystic.
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She served four terms in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1975-1982, as the first Democrat elected from North Branford since 1884. Her legislative accomplishments included creating the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority, replacing the private New Haven Water Company. She challenged the private company's plans to sell off 16,000 acres of its watershed lands for suburban development, raising concerns about water quality and the need to preserve public recreational resources. In response, the company denounced her in local newspapers, characterizing her questioning of the company's potential windfall profits from the land sales as "irresponsible" and inflammatory." She later described being in the kitchen of her Northford home when the chagrined president of the private company rang her doorbell and personally delivered the draft of the legislation establishing the public authority. She also initiated a legislative moratorium on future land sales by private water companies, setting the groundwork for statewide protection of watersheds feeding public water supplies.
Born and raised in Middletown, she was the daughter of the late Hugo Conrad Soest and Dorothy Hazen. She graduated from Wheaton College in 1949, and studied in Norway in 1953 under a Fulbright Fellowship. She married Donald S. McCluskey in 1954 and settled in Northford, where she created North Branford's Conservation Commission and served on the town planning board. She earned a master's of forestry sciences in 1973 from Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the second woman ever to receive this degree.
After her legislative service, she worked for the Connecticut Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and then also became active in environmental planning in Block Island, R.I., where she and her husband Don moved after many years of summer visits. She was the longest serving member of the Block Island Planning Board, and she helped establish the Block Island Land Trust.
She was an outdoor enthusiast, devoted to gardening, hiking, and skiing. She cherished time in the open spaces near home in Block Island and Connecticut, in global travels, as well in her beloved mountains of Wyoming and Vail, Colo., where she and her husband Donald spent many winters.
In addition to her husband, Donald S. McCluskey, of Block Island, R.I. and Mystic, she is survived by three children, Peter C. McCluskey of San Bruno, Calif., Martha T. McCluskey and her husband, Carl Nightingale, of Buffalo, N.Y. and Christine Jensen and her husband, Peter Jensen, of Nederland, Colo.; her brother, Hugh G. Soest and his wife, Donna, of Arizona; and three grandchildren, Mbali McCluskey-Nightingale and Liesl and Trine Jensen.
She was predeceased by her brother, Orin H. Soest.
A memorial service will be held this summer on Block Island.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to The Block Island Conservancy, http://www.biconservancy.org/donate.html, or St. Anne's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Block Island.
Published in The Day on Feb. 24, 2013