Marcia Tuohey set an example for service and determination

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 August 2014 at 12:00 am


Marcia Tuohey

I saw two empty chairs next to Marcia Tuohey. It was July 28 and a good-sized crowd had turned out to watch a joint session of the Medina Village Board and the Ridgeway and Shelby town boards. The elected officials were there to discuss shared services and perhaps other ways to bring down the costs of local government.

Tuohey, a former Medina mayor and County Legislature chairwoman, had claimed a seat in the front row. She has attended many sessions over the past 18 months as the Village Board weighed the future of the community. She has shared her views at meetings, suggesting the Village Board trim more from its budget and also be “hard-nosed” with the two towns in negotiations, particularly seeking money for the ambulance service.

At that meeting two weeks ago, I started to sit down next to Tuohey but she told me not to. “Don’t sit next to me.” She flashed a little smile. I sat two seats away instead. That seemed good enough for her.

I’ve spent more time as an adult with Tuohey than with my own mother. I’ve always liked Marcia, even when she was telling me off. She didn’t hold back. She also could be nice. Sometimes during a break in the action at a Legislature meeting, she would come over and shoot the breeze with me. I’ve been to her house. Her late husband Carl joked he spent his retirement as his wife’s personal secretary. They kept up one of Medina’s grandest houses before downsizing a few years ago.

She liked the banter on boards and enjoyed behind-the-scenes politicking. I was impressed with her commanding presence as chairwoman. She knew the issues.

Tuohey died on Thursday at age 84. Some people might have known her as “The Hat Lady.” She was much more than a stylish dresser. When she represented the county with state officials and at regional events, the hats and her classy outfits stood out. But through her strength and determination, she made sure the county wasn’t forgotten. She wasn’t afraid of anybody.

She attended a three-hour Village Planning Board meeting two days before her death. Tuohey served on the board in an unpaid position. She’s the only former legislator I know of who returned to a village or town government role after serving in a county position. The Planning Board is about as thankless as it gets. She was happy to be a role player. She didn’t always need to be in charge.

Photo by Tom Rivers – Marcia Tuohey attended a July 17 retirement party for Paul Wagner. She appointed him as emergency management director 14 years ago.

Tuohey also represented the county on the board of directors for Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. She joined that board in 2006.

Richard Siebert remembers when Tuohey started on the WROTB board. Siebert represents Genesee County on the board. When Tuohey was Legislature chairwoman, she was outspoken against WROTB and the directors’ decision to buy the Batavia Downs race track in 1998. “Have they lost their minds?” Siebert recalled Tuohey being quoted in the newspapers.

The track has proved a big money-maker for OTB. The race track has about 800 video lottery terminals that resemble slot machines. The VLTs are carrying the corporation, more than making up for a downturn at the OTB parlors and losses with live racing.

At her first meeting on the board, Tuohey admitted she was wrong about the track in 1998.

“She told us we were right and it has been a great deal for everybody,” Siebert said.

Tuohey quickly earned the respect of the 17-member board, which included representatives from 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo. Despite being from one of the smallest counties, she was elected by her peers on the board to be vice chairman of the board.

There was infighting on the board at times, and Tuohey didn’t back down.

“She would get in someone’s face if she didn’t agree with you,” Siebert said. “Everyone respected her. When she got done, you knew where she was coming from.”

Tuohey ran several business ventures before running for Medina Village Board in 1979. She was the co-owner and operator of a nursing home, motel and restaurant, mobile home park, and rental properties.

She ran for village trustee because she didn’t want Medina to spend $10 million for a new sewer plant. She was elected and Medina did a $3 million upgrade instead.

She was the first woman to serve as Medina mayor (from 1982 to 1990) and was the first woman elected to the County Legislature in 1990. She was chairwoman for 10 years, the longest tenure of any county leader.

She battled colorectal cancer about a decade ago but still pushed through big projects at the county, including renovations and an expansion of the county nursing home.

She set an example for all of us, a full life with family, business and public service. She didn’t let any obstacle – sickness, age, gender bias or the status quo – get in her way.