Ramapo Councilman Harry Reiss dies

(Original Publication: July 16, 2007)

RAMAPO - Harry Reiss, an educator and Town Board member who has been described as a gentleman and a quiet intellectual, has died.

Reiss, who had suffered a debilitating stroke in March 2006, died Saturday at his Monsey home. He was 78.

Hundreds attended the funeral at Community Synagogue in Monsey yesterday. Reiss, who was born and raised in New York City, will be buried in Israel.

Reiss has been described by family, friends and colleagues as a true intellectual who was intrigued by history and devoted to Ramapo and Rockland.

The Democrat had been absent from Town Board activities since his stroke.

"He has been missed, and he will be sorely missed," Christian Sampson, chairman of the Ramapo Town Democratic Committee, said yesterday. "It's a tremendous loss for our town. Harry was just a revered citizen, quiet and unassuming but just a very effective councilman and very effective community leader."

Reiss, an Army veteran, was a founder and past president of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley.

Anne Katz, a past president and board member of the museum, said Reiss was committed to the center because "he believed strongly that there should be something in the county to teach children about the horrors of the Holocaust and about tolerance for others and equality of people."

In addition to being a "humanistic kind of man who worried about each person," Reiss was a nice person, she said.

"I will remember him as a sweet, kind individual who cared about others, who never had a bad thing to say about anyone," she said. "He was just a very gentle soul.

"He often came across as being very quiet. He was very unassuming, but then he knew so much. He was a quiet giant, I would say."

Reiss led a life dedicated to education, history, family and people.

He joined the Town Board in 1994 but had served the town before that as a member of the Planning Board and as a town committeeman in the late 1960s.

During his tenure, he initiated the National Safe Kids program, which was aimed at reducing accidental injuries, as well as the town's traffic calming program. He also was chairman of the Ramapo sidewalk committee.

After Hurricane Floyd ravaged Rockland County in 1999, Reiss put together a detailed command plan for the town of Ramapo. Christopher St. Lawrence, the town's current supervisor, said Reiss presented him the plan when he took office in 2000.

Reiss also led an effort to get a propane tank storage facility out of Suffern.

Reiss expanded the town's overseas twinning program to include Beit Shemesh in Israel and, later, Shanghai, China.

Reiss' daughter, Linda Wolicki, said she remembered her father's great love of books.

"From when I was little, he had a book, always," said Wolicki, who lives in Israel.

She said her father knew "every nook and cranny" of Ramapo.

"He really knew the history of the land the history of the place," she said, "and he was just fascinated by it."

Reiss retired as principal and director of special programs for New York City schools. He was an adjunct political science faculty member at Rockland Community College.

He studied at City College of the City University of New York and Columbia University. He had a master's degree in history and also taught at Yeshiva University.

He moved to Ramapo in 1968, and his life in the town and the county has been characterized by vigorous participation in numerous community and local government activities.

Reiss was the quintessential politician, Sampson said.

"The term has almost become a bad word, but he was a politician in the truest sense. He related to people," Sampson said. "And I think that's the essence of a politician, one who can effectively raise consensus among people and represent a unifying voice."

Reiss decided to seek a seat on the county Legislature in the mid-1980s but dropped out of the primary race in an effort to unify the Democratic Party.

"There is too much fragmentation in the town," he said then in an interview with the Rockland Journal-News, a precursor to The Journal News. "As Democrats, we need more of us working together so that our huge voter registration majority in Ramapo can be translated into Democratic votes and victory in the November election."

Reiss was born March 4, 1929. He is survived by his wife, Marion, three children and 11 grandchildren.

St. Lawrence said that he would recommend Reiss' board seat remain unfilled until the November elections.

"I believe it should be decided by the people," St. Lawrence said.