Fifth entry in a series about people who have passed
away in the decade since The Plant was Stopped
John was a Hudson native who graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in the 1940s before studying at Harvard. He later worked for General Electric in Schenectady, and on nuclear submarines. In the late 1960s, he negotiated with the remnants of the Lone Star Cement company for the City to buy its quarries on the east side of Newman Road, with the intention of them serving as a backup water supply.
The sale went through, but John was later chagrined that Charlie never hooked these up to the City water system. Every time there was a water alert in Hudson, John would remind me of this inaction by his successor—who he believed to have done work early in his career for the Colarusso gravel mine next door. His suspicions only deepened when then-Mayor Rick Scalera made a long-term lease-to-own deal with Colarusso to mine around the quarry lake, eliminating any realistic possibility of using it to keep the City wet.
His history of negotiating with Lone Star, as well as his memories of the dirty brown snow that would rain down from that plant and the old Atlas, made John a skeptic about the St. Lawrence Cement proposal. (Butterworth, by contrast, made every effort to grease the skids for SLC, for example by making sure the Hudson Waterfront Committee took no action that would jeopardize the company’s plans.)
John also had no use for the company’s divide-and-conquer strategy of trying to pit neighbors against each other based on their backgrounds and lifestyles. He once commented at a public meeting about one of Holcim’s p.r. flacks, Phil Pepe, who was caught ghostwriting letters-to-the-editor in favor of his client, and the local newspaper which gullibly printed them:
The Swiss cement company has retained a propaganda outfit. Their representative is Pepi Le Pue—or that's what I call him, anyway. He writes these letters for others to sign. And there's a recurrent theme through the whole thing that these “newcomers” are the ones who oppose this wonderful plant. In quotation marks: these awful “newcomers.”
I was born here in 1931. My mother was born here in 1893, and my grandfather was born in Saugerties in 1853, eight years before the Civil War began. So we've been around for a while.
I leave my feathers at home, but I consider myself a native.
So who are the newcomers?
Certainly, a Swiss cement company.
And certainly, the present owners of the Register-Star, who support the Swiss cement company to the very best of their ability. They’re owned by the Johnson Publishing Company, which is in upper New York state near the Canadian border. So they're pretty safe.
John then expanded his critique to the bigger picture, of how a foreign-owned corporation proposed to exploit local residents’ health for their own profit:
The Swiss engage in one thing, and have one primary interest, and that is making money. That is what they propose to do here. All of those letters saying that, “Oh, we need the employment and we need this and we need that.” Of course, there will be no new employment.
The reason for the Swiss proposing to construct this plant is that it will be at least three-and-a-third times larger than the plant they have in Cementon with the same number of people.
So they will decrease their production costs by at least 70 percent. There will be 70 percent less work input per ton of cement produced. And if anyone considers that my categorizing the Swiss as being interested in money, well, this is history.
When the Nazis invaded Denmark they issued and edict that all Jews were to wear a Star of David on their clothing. The next day Christian X, the King of Denmark appeared in public with the Star of David on his coat and all the days followed suit. And Denmark, of all the occupied countries in Europe, the Jews survived the best.
Now when Jews fled Germany and came to the Swiss border, if they made it, if they didn't have enough money on them the Swiss turned them back. And those who were admitted to Switzerland land when their money ran out the Swiss sold them back to the Nazis to be exterminated.
These are the people who have our interest at heart and propose to operate in Columbia County. Thank you.
As you can see, Mr. Flynn pulled no punches. That is not automatically a virtue, if such outspokenness is not combined with good sense. But combined with his long memory and fierce intelligence, it made John a valuable ally and sounding board. I miss seeing him with his pal Larry Marinelli, who videotaped many of the cement plant meetings, and was a great friend to John in his later years.
ENDNOTE: Though Charlie Butterworth and I were often on opposite sides of local issues, our relationship always remained cordial and straightforward. We debated many topics intensely, but not bitterly.
When, for example, it was decided to have the City sidewalks redone (by Colarusso, natch), there was an uproar about all the mature black locust trees which would be uprooted from Warren Street. Almost all of these were lost, but a few residents were able to negotiate with him to save their tree.
In my case, I approached Charlie with a different idea, since the roots of the locusts in front of Curtiss House had pretty severely pushed up the existing sidewalks and could not be salvaged. I asked Charlie how much he intended to spend on the two replacement trees, which were going to be a generic form of flowering pear or the like—the type of tree one sees in mall parking lots.
When he gave the amount, I asked if Charlie would object if I spent that money plus some of my own on a different, more distinctive tree. He agreed, and I instead had two 10-foot-tall sycamore saplings installed by Windy Hill Nursery. I since sold 32 Warren, but the sycamores—a classic and stately New York tree, well-suited for urban environments—reamain, and have tripled their height. Arguments about one controversy did not prevent Charlie from being open to reasonable solutions to another.