Alexander Aldrich March 14, 1928–July 19, 2017 SARATOGA SPRINGS - Alexander Aldrich, widely known as “Sam,” died peacefully at The Wesley Community in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, July 19 at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife, the former Phyllis Williamson of Providence, RI, and their children, William Aldrich of San Francisco and Sarah Aldrich of Hamden, CT; his children with his former wife, Elizabeth Hollins Elliott of Tyringham, MA: Winthrop Aldrich of Islesboro, ME; Elizabeth Atcheson of Seattle, WA, Amanda O’Bannon of Providence, RI, and Alexander Aldrich of Montpelier, VT; and his stepchildren Cynthia Watts Murphy of Morristown, NJ, Jeffrey Watts of Tokyo, Japan, and Taylor Watts of Longmont, CO; plus twenty-three adored grandchildren, and seven wonderful sons- and daughters-in-law. He is also survived by two of his four sisters, Lucy Burr of Mystic, CT and Liberty Redmond of Bethesda, MD. Sam was born into a family that has been prominent in American civic life. His paternal grandfather was Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, a leader in the US Senate at the beginning of the 20th century. His mother’s grandfather, Charles Crocker, was one of the “Big Four” who completed the transcontinental railroad during California’s Gold Rush. His father, Winthrop W. Aldrich, was CEO and Chairman of the Chase National Bank and served as American Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s during the Eisenhower Administration. His mother, Harriet Alexander Aldrich, ran the Civil Defense Volunteer Office in New York City during World War II. Educated at Harvard and Harvard Law School, Sam started his career as a corporate attorney for Milbank, Tweed in New York City. However, he was soon called to public service by the societal changes he was witnessing. Sam left the corporate world, earned an MPA from New York University, and thenceforth devoted himself to public service, focusing his efforts on improving law enforcement’s approach to what were then called “juvenile delinquents,” supporting civil rights, preserving public lands, and sustaining art and culture. First as a public defender and later as deputy police commissioner for New York City, Sam worked with youth programs, like the Police Athletic League, and, among other accomplishments, advocated successfully for young performers from Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the late 1950s. His influence was not limited to youth advocacy. In 1958, while teaching a class on criminal justice at City University of New York, one of his students sought his advice. Felicia Spritzer, an officer for Juvenile Aid Bureau, asked how she could overcome the NYPD’s exclusion of women from the test to advance to the rank of sergeant. Sam advised Felicia: “Get pro bono counsel from the ACLU, and sue the city, the Mayor, and the police commissioner”—Sam’s boss—“for a court order compelling them to allow you and any other qualified woman to take the sergeant’s test.” Felicia took Sam’s advice, and in 1964 became the first female sergeant in the NYPD. In 1960, Sam joined New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s administration as the first director of the New York State Division for Youth, and became chairman of the Governor’s State Cabinet Committee for Civil Rights, as well as the Governor’s executive assistant. In that role, Sam marched 54 miles with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of the Voting Rights Act. As the first director of New York State’s Hudson River Valley Commission, in 1966-68, Sam fought successfully to protect 1,000 acres of farmland on the banks of the Hudson river from the development of a nuclear power plant, saving the iconic view from the Saratoga Battlefield National Monument. He continued as a passionate advocate for New York’s open spaces as its Commissioner of State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation from 1971-1975. He traveled the inland waterways from Long Island to Niagara Falls on his beloved 36-foot Maine lobster boat, Strider, engaging local officials and journalists to support the Parks along the route. As a captain, Sam was unflappable. When Strider’s engine conked out just upstream of Niagara Falls with a reporter onboard, Sam calmly repaired the engine and piloted them to safety. Thereafter, Sam engaged fully in local politics and advocacy, serving as the Attorney for the City of Saratoga Springs, for Yaddo, and for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. In his role at SPAC, he was known to walk through the crowds of twirling hippies at Grateful Dead shows wearing his trademark seersucker suit and boater hat, ensuring that the revelry stayed safe. In the 1980s he chaired the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and in the 1990s he chaired Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Urban and Environmental Studies program and helped pioneer Empire State College’s distance learning initiatives. Sam was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, taking time to know his kids well and teach them how to tie their hockey skates, pitch a tent, navigate through fog, and play Parcheesi. Sam was fiercely proud of his wife Phyllis and her career as a tireless advocate for gifted education around New York State. Sam was active with St. George’s Episcopal Church in Clifton Park, NY, serving as a Stephen Minister, as senior warden, and singing bass in the Choir for many years. In the summers, he was active in the communities of Islesboro, Maine and Martha’s Vineyard. Ever the storyteller, Sam captured the tales of his many professional and personal adventures in the 2011 memoir “Dancing with the Queen; Marching with King” (New York State University Press). Visiting hours will be from 4pm to 7pm on Friday, August 4 at Burke Funeral Home (628 N Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866). A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held 11am on Saturday, August 5, at St. George’s Episcopal Church (912 Route 146 in Clifton Park, NY 12065). The family is grateful to the staff of the Wesley Community for their compassionate care for Sam. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Published in The Saratogian from Jul. 22 to Jul. 23, 2017.