The longtime supervisor of the town of St. Armand died this morning.
Joyce Morency, 77, passed away at her daughter's home in Potsdam after a hard-fought and lengthy battle with cancer.
Morency, a Republican, had been St. Armand's supervisor since 1982, after first being elected in 1981. She was the first woman to chair the Essex County Board of Supervisors in 1994. She was also a former chairwoman of the Essex County Republican Committee.
Joyce Morency, supervisor of the town of St. Armand, sits in her office in August 2009. She was supervisor from 1981 until her death today.
(Enterprise file photo — Nathan Brown)
Local and state politicians, town employees and Morency's friends described her to the Enterprise today as a dedicated, tough and tireless community servant.
"Joyce was a pillar in this community," town Clerk Davina Thurston told the Enterprise from the town hall in Bloomingdale. "She devoted her life to this town, and she loved this town. She helped so many people and did so much work for the citizens of St. Armand. We were really blessed to have her for 30 years."
Connie Willette, who worked with Morency for 45 years, first at a Saranac Lake accounting office and later as the supervisor's clerk, described her as smart and tough.
"She was tough when she needed to be," Willette said. "She knew things that none of us are ever going to know she knew about. She knew about the water department, the sewer department. She knew were things were. She was really a true supervisor. She knew how to get things done. She's going to be missed by the town."
Among Morency's accomplishments for St. Armand, Willette named various youth projects and programs, the completion of the town's water project including the building of a new water tower, the countless grants she secured for the community and her one-on-one help with town constituents.
Morency's colleagues on the Essex County Board of Supervisors say they'll remember her for her dedication to public service.
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, the board's chairman, said Morency was a financial expert.
"I valued her opinion on anything that we did when it came to the budget process over the last three years," he said. "She will be dearly missed."
Moriah's longtime supervisor, Tom Scozzafava, met Morency when he joined the board in 1986. He said she was a wealth of knowledge and a staunch fiscal conservative.
"Joyce and I had our differences, don't get me wrong," an emotional Scozzafava said. "She would always say to me, 'We can have our disagreements, but at the end of the day, we remain friends.' And she was true to that."
Morency wasn't afraid to mix it up with fellow county lawmakers. Scozzafava recalled a public hearing on the budget when Morency was the board's chairwoman and he tried to stage a filibuster.
"I wouldn't relinquish the floor," Scozzafava said. "She called the sheriff's department on me. Honest to God, these two deputies showed up, and they were going to remove me from the room. Joyce and I laughed about that often through the years. I'm gonna miss her."
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, a cancer survivor, said he and Morency became close in recent years because of their shared experience with the disease.
"Joyce and I carried the same cross," he said. "She was such an inspiration. She was always more concerned about my health than her own."
Politi called Morency a "cornerstone of the Board of Supervisors.
"She was tough; she was compassionate," he said. "She was such a great role model for all of the women of this region."
Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Janet Duprey agreed. Sayward, who served as the town of Willsboro's supervisor in the 1990s, said Morency "blazed the way" for female politicians like herself.
"I watched her as chair of the county board, and she fought to get that position," Sayward said. "There was a lot of dissension among the people on the board at the time. Everything Joyce did was scrutinized more than any other chair because she was a woman. ... Her first year was a lot of having to prove herself over and over and over again. But that second year she was in, it was amazing to watch the difference with the male supervisors and how they had come to accept and trust Joyce in that position because she certainly proved that a woman could do the job as well and probably even better than some of the men that had proceeded her."
Duprey and Morency recently worked together to convince Democrats in the Assembly to include St. Armand in the same Assembly district as the rest of Essex County - switching from Duprey's district to the one Sayward is about to step down from.
"For her, it was the right thing to do," Duprey said. "She worked hard, and had a huge dedication to her town, her county and the North Country. ... We've lost a very dedicated and competent leader."
Village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau issued a statement expressing condolences and sorrow to Morency's family on behalf of the village.
"Joyce was one of the most dedicated local public officials I ever met," Rabideau wrote. "She was totally dedicated to her township and its residents and would spend whatever amount of time it took to solve any problem at hand spending tremendously more hours in the town hall than any two other Town Supervisors put together. Joyce was a fearless and unrelenting advocate of St. Armand and its residents and will be dearly missed by all."
Prior to being elected as supervisor in November 1980, Morency served on the St. Armand town council for two-and-a-half years. She also served for 10 years as the treasurer of Bloomingdale, which was a separate village at the time. It dissolved in December 1985.
Morency was rarely contested for re-election. The last time she ran for another four-year term as supervisor, in 2009, she easily defeated Democrat Tom Jones.
Her health problems first surfaced in July 2010 when Morency stepped down as chairwoman of Essex County's Finance Committee.
"She had a long, hard battle with cancer," Willette said. "It was two-and-a-half years she's been battling this. It was hard for her, but she still came in, and she and I worked together until she was unable to come in anymore then she still worked from home."
"Her mind was as sharp as a tack all the way till the end," Thurston said. "She was still doing the town's business."
While she's known for her long tenure as the town's top elected official, Morency was also a local business owner. In 1970, she and her husband Leo Morency took over ownership and operation of her father's business, Woodruff Lumber and Hardware on Mill Street in Bloomingdale. Willette recalled stopping at the mill to talk to her about town business.
"I'd have to wait for her to get off the forklift," she said. "She was an extremely hard worker."
Leo Morency died in 1990, and Joyce later sold the business to Ollie Burgess, who runs it now as Specialty Wood Products.
She is survived by two daughters: Lisa, who lives in Potsdam, and Beth, who lives in Texas.
The Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake is in charge of funeral arrangements. Director Brendan Keough said arrangements are incomplete at this time, but calling hours are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday at the funeral home with a funeral service Thursday at St. Bernard's Church in Saranac Lake.
Sam Grimone is the town's deputy supervisor.
(Editor's note: The third paragraph of this story has been corrected to reflect that Morency was first elected as town supervisor in 1981 and started the job in 1982.)