PLATTSBURGH - Gordon J. Hazel Jr., a man best known in the community for his former role as executive director of the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties, has died. Hazel, who had been battling pancreatic cancer since first diagnosed in August 2007, passed away Jan. 19 at the age of 62.
News of Hazel's death sent shockwaves through the community. Though he had battled one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, Hazel wasn't known to show signs of discomfort in public.
Bruce E. Garcia, the man who assumed Hazel's role at the JCEO following Hazel's retirement after 18 years in October 2008, said he was shocked and saddened by his friend's death.
"The last time I saw him was about two weeks before he passed away," recalled Garcia. "When I saw him, he looked great. He was still very thin, but he seemed to be as well as he could be."
When he learned of his friend being hospitalized days later, Garcia said, "It quite frankly didn't equate to what I had seen."
The two talked over lunch about each other's grandkids and about family in general, Garcia recalled.
"What we enjoyed talking about most was family," said Garcia. "One of the things I will remember most about Gordon was how much family meant to him - how much Kathleen and his sons meant to him, how much his grandkids meant to him."
"Those kinds of conversations with him will be the memories of Gordon I cherish," he added.
Garcia worked with Hazel as his deputy director for more than 12 years prior to Hazel's retirement, he said. During that time, Garcia said he saw a "transformation" of the organization under Hazel's leadership.
"When Gordon took over, JCEO had an annual budget of about $885,000 and employed 56 people," said Garcia. "When you look at JCEO today, we have a budget in excess of $7 million a year, employ 170 people and have really increased the amount of services provided by our organization. The transformation has been just remarkable. Gordon really made JCEO a thriving and dynamic organization."