WILMINGTON — Longtime Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston is remembered as someone who fought for his town, Essex County and fire and emergency medical services.
Preston, 60, died Thursday of an aggressive brain tumor, glioblastoma, after a two-year struggle with the neurofibroma.
Preston was first elected Wilmington town supervisor as an independent in 2008.
He served two terms as chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, stepping down last year when Willsboro Town Supervisor Shaun Gillilland became chairman.
Preston joined the Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department in April 1977 and was fire chief for 14 years.
Gillilland said Preston was almost larger than life.
“I’ve lost a very good friend, a tremendous colleague,” he said. “He was really a natural, true leader.
"I’ve never met a guy who was so dedicated to his town and the county, and to the people, which was first and foremost on his mind. He lived and breathed public service.
“He built Wilmington (into a better place). That’s his legacy. It was an honor to be his friend.”
“He was always a supporter of the fire service,” Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said. “He was well respected. If you had him on your side you were doing OK.”
He said it’s been hard for Preston’s family as his condition worsened.
“He gave it a good fight. He battled this for two years. Yet he still had a smile, and he did his job as supervisor.”
Preston's wife, Michelle, said her husband was a loving and caring person.
“He loved his little town of Wilmington and was always striving to make it better,” she said on social media.
“The years of dedication to the Wilmington Fire Department showed his true passion.
“Many know he was a tough and stubborn individual, which allowed him to be with us the last two years as he bravely battled his horrible disease,” his wife continued.
“My life was forever changed the day he came into my life. He made me into a stronger, braver and wiser woman, and I will forever be grateful to him.”
Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava worked with Preston on the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
“Randy was not only a supervisor but also a friend,” Scozzafava said. “He had a heart of a giant, and he loved his community and our county. He will be missed by many, but I am a better man for having known him. ”
Former Ticonderoga Fire Chief Matthew Watts said Preston inspired many people with his resolve and determination.
“Randy was a very strong and stubborn man, but one with a huge heart,” Watts said.
“He was very dedicated to his family, friends, fire department, town and county, a role model for people to follow. I was glad to know him and call him a friend.”
Lewis Town Supervisor James Monty said his prayers are with Preston and his family.
“Watching him the last two years coming to work, battling cancer yet never giving in or giving up was an inspiration,” Monty said.
“When I was first elected supervisor, Randy and I may have disagreed a few times, and as the years progressed, we began to realize we were more the same than different, just traveling different roads for the same objective.
“Randy was a mentor and a friend. I am a better supervisor, and most importantly, a better man for knowing him.”
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said the North Country lost an incredible advocate and a great man.
“Knowing and working with Randy Preston truly has been my privilege,” Little said in a statement. “I enjoyed each and every time we’d catch up and talk about ways we could work together to make life better for our constituents.
“He was a true champion who never stopped fighting. Randy loved Wilmington, he loved the Adirondacks, and he loved public service. We couldn't have asked for more. And, most importantly, he loved his family. We will all miss him dearly.”
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said Preston was an impressive leader.
“He brought great passion to his advocacy for Wilmington, Essex County and the Adirondacks,” Douglas said.
“But that passion was accompanied by an understanding of collaboration and partnership on a regional level that helped to achieve some great advances for his town on his watch, such as the reconstruction of the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway and drawing major investments to Whiteface and to Wilmington's community core.”
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) said he lost a friend when Preston died.
“We’re heartbroken for Michelle and their children,” he said. “It’s a big loss for Essex County and Wilmington.”
He said Preston was genuine in whatever he did.
“He didn’t pull any punches. He was a hard worker, and he was also effective."
When Whiteface Memorial Highway was crumbling, Preston got the state to rebuild it, he said.
“He made a an effort to build relationships with Albany and with the governor,” Stec said. “He told the governor (Andrew Cuomo) that Whiteface Memorial Highway was a disgrace.”
The governor soon directed officials to come up with a plan to rebuild the road.
“Randy put himself in a position where he could say this was needed.”
When Essex County had a crisis of ambulance service, Stec said, Preston got help for the county.
“They recently got $6 million to get the (countywide) system started. The pieces are in place to take ambulance service to where it needs to be. It may take a couple years.
"It started when Randy was chairman. He put a ton of energy into getting it done.”
Preston filed to be on the November general election ballot for re-election as an independent, Essex County Democratic Election Commissioner Sue Montgomery Cory said.
So the members of his designated committee to fill vacancies, Darin Forbes, Michelle Preston and Robert Hockert, will make the decision about who will take his place on the ballot.