'She was a fighter': Roxanne Donnery, former OC Legislature chairwoman, dies

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HIGHLAND FALLS − Roxanne Donnery, the former chairwoman of the Orange County Legislature, was known for the pink pair of boxing gloves that hung in her office, many of her political colleagues said.

"It was symbolic of how she governed. She saw herself as fighting for the people and against the status quo," said her friend and the former chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee Jonathan Jacobson. "Roxanne was relentless. She was a fighter. She stood up for her principles and she got things done."

State Sen. James Skoufis said Donnery "never hesitated to put on those boxing gloves on behalf of the people she represented ... She was relentless in the best possible use of the word."

Donnery died on Monday night after a three-year battle with cancer, according to her friends and colleagues. She was 79.

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Donnery became the first Democrat in Orange County history to chair the Legislature in 2009. In addition to serving several years in the county Legislature, Donnery spent many years on the Highland Falls school board and ran an unsuccessful campaign for county executive in 2013 against Steve Neuhaus. She continued to lobby for federal impact aid for the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District several years after her career as an elected official ended.

Both Jacobson and Skoufis said Donnery will be remembered for her instrumental role in the effort to ensure Valley View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center remained county-owned. Jacobson said Donnery also created the plan to renovate the County Government Center, which prevented the building from being demolished.

Donnery was known for her bipartisanship and collaborative leadership style, her friends and colleagues said.

"Roxanne was able to become chair because she was able to get some Republicans to vote for her," Jacobson said. "That took an incredible amount of skill, and she did it based on her grit, determination and personality."

Roxanne Donnery speaks at a Times Herald-Record editorial board meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.
Roxanne Donnery speaks at a Times Herald-Record editorial board meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.

After becoming chairwoman, Skoufis said, Donnery appointed members of both parties to lead the various committees.

"She ran the county Legislature in a way that was classic Roxanne," Skoufis said. "She respected both parties and she respected good people regardless of what letter was next to their names as long as they were there to do the right thing and were working in good faith."

Matt Turnbull, the former leader of the Democratic minority, said he and Donnery quickly became friends when they met in the Orange County Legislature in the early 2010s.

"I could always count on her to help me understand different issues," Turnbull said. "She was a hard worker, and she was very passionate about various issues."

Remembering Roxanne

Outside of politics, Donnery was known as a talented artist, active community member and generous friend, according to her close friends Lynn and Bill Edsall. She loved to unwind by drinking a Kettle One martini with three olives, they said.

"She was a little lady," Lynn Edsall said. "She was small in size, but she had the biggest heart. She just loved people, and if there was a just cause, she was going to fight for it. People called her the Energizer bunny all the time because she just never stopped."

Overlook on the Hudson, a bed and breakfast located in Highland Falls, is owned by Donnery's family. Sandy Capriglione, Donnery's close friend and former colleague, said Donnery enjoyed running the business alongside her husband.

Orange County executive candidate Roxanne Donnery voting at The Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Highland Falls, NY, on Nov. 5, 2013.
Orange County executive candidate Roxanne Donnery voting at The Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Highland Falls, NY, on Nov. 5, 2013.

Donnery was a devout Christian, Capriglione said, and she was known to take in friends and community members who fell on hard times.

"She was a mentor, sister and mother all rolled up into one," Capriglione said.

Turnbull said Donnery had a unique presence and he always enjoyed running into her and her husband.

"She was fun. She had a great sense of humor, and you were very comfortable around her because of who she was," he said. "You always got that kind of rush when you ran into her and were around her. It was always a really good feeling ... You don't get that feeling with everybody. She was just somebody who transcended all the nonsense and craziness, and you learned what was important when you were around her. I am going to miss her."

Donnery is survived by her husband, children and grandchildren, according to Lynn and Bill Edsall.

"She was a wonderful grandparent, parent and spouse," Lynn Edsall said.

Erin Nolan is an investigative reporter for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach her at enolan@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Friends remember Roxanne Donnery, 79, former Orange County legislator