On Sunday, May 14, The City of White Plains lost one of its most respected and beloved residents, John W. Harrington (Jack). He was 97 years old. He passed peacefully with family by his side.
Friends close to Jack said he was in his usual good spirits and sharp to the end, always ready to greet everyone with a chipper “Top of the morning to you.”
He enjoyed visits with friends in his last days, as they would join him in watching the birds in a feeder outside his window, reminiscing and commenting on the different birds that visited.
Jack was born on November 18, 1919 in Oswego, NY. He graduated from Oswego High School in 1937, and enrolled in the Oswego Normal School – NY State University to attain an Industrial Arts degree. But with World War II approaching, marine engine companies were looking for skilled men to train navy crews for PT and gun boats. He was assigned to the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships, 11th Amphibious Force/Combined Operations in London. He enlisted in U.S. Marine Corps (1946-1949) and became a Staff Sergeant at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He returned home to resume his education and graduated from Cornell University in 1952.
In 1953 he met and married Margaret (Peg) Salmon in Buffalo, NY. They were married for 59 years until her passing in 2012. They have three children and one grandchild.
Jack Harrington continued his commitment to service as a community activist and preservationist for six decades in White Plains. He and his late wife Peg have been key figures in the development of the city by leading movements to preserve historic buildings and landmarks, and preserve open spaces.
For 22 years Jack served as President of the White Plains Historical Society. He was also a member of the White Plains Conservation Board, Chairman of the White Plains Comprehensive Plan Committee and a member of the White Plains School District Annual Budget Committee.
His contributions as an activist and preservationist have been credited with improving the quality of life for White Plains residents.
Jack was instrumental in founding the White Plains Greenway Committee in 1996. The committee oversaw the transformation of a former railway line and dumping ground into one of the most widely used walking trails, earning him the nickname, the “Father of the Greenway.” In 2012, the city officially named the trail “The Jack Harrington Greenway Walking Trail.”
As an open space activist, Jack frequently spoke about the need to preserve as much of White Plains open space as possible. He was also adamant about maintaining the city’s sense of place, especially relating to its importance in history, which could be destroyed by over development. “I cannot express how important a sense of place is. How it impacts you,” Jack would often say. “The place and the ground are so important.”
He was instrumental in protecting the entire Good Counsel complex by making sure it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 when he was president of the White Plains Historical Society.
Jack would often express his concerns about how the landmarks of the city were being treated, and he is credited with saving the remnants of and adding a bronze plaque to the old monument to World War 1 heroes at the intersection of Post Road and Maple, which was later reconstructed by a citizens group.
Jack advocated for the recently passed White Plains Historic Preservation Law and was often the first to take the podium during his later years to speak out in favor of environmental concerns, often against over development. During those moments, residents would listen intently because when Jack spoke, there was always something to be gained by his insight.
In remembering Jack, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach said, “Jack was a great person, a gentleman, who put the best interests of others ahead of his own, all his life. He served the city in the same way.”
“I remember him calling me,” Roach continued, “and he’d say, ‘I’m not going to take too much of your time’ and then he’d launch into whatever was on his mind. But, I was always happy to oblige,” Roach said. “Jack was always very positive, effective and a sturdy part of any solution. He respected others even if he did not agree with their positions.”
Mayor Roach also commented that he was proud to take part in the educational walks Jack would conduct during the early days of getting the Greenway established. “He made an impression on me and I have never forgotten. To this day, I still repeat what he told me when I take others out for walks along the trail.”
Jack also conducted historical walks around White Plains, stopping at many points telling people the importance of the spot, like where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New York at the old armory building.
Jack Harrington received recognition and awards during his life. He was one of the first honorees of the Friendly Gathering to receive the Monsignor Ed. O’Brien Community Service Award.
In December 2015 State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins brought the NYS Senate Hall of Fame Award ceremony from Albany to White Plains to honor Jack. Having served in the Marine Corps from 1946-49, Jack was the choice of White Plain’s State Senator for nomination to the State Senate’s Hall of Fame. “You are not only a hero because of your service to our country, you are a hero because you continued to serve every day of your life,” Stewart-Cousins said.
For all of us in White Plains, we owe Jack Harrington a tremendous debt of gratitude because he is responsible for so many of the special elements that give our city its sense of place, our home.
At this time, the Harrington family has decided to hold a private service and burial in Oswego, NY.