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Gerard P. Conley, Sr.
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Obituary for Gerard P. Conley, Sr.

PORTLAND – Gerard P. Conley, Sr., of Portland, passed away on January 4, 2018, a day after his 88th birthday. He was in the presence of his family at the Mercy Hospital, the same hospital in which twelve of his thirteen children were born. Each year as Jerry left the hospital with his bride, Ann, and their newest bundle of joy, he would look back at the admissions desk clerk and say, “We are making our reservations for next year right now!”

Jerry was born on January 3, 1930, the third of six children with which Thomas J. and Catherine (Murphy) Conley were blessed.

Jerry graduated from Sacred Heart Grammar School, attended Cheverus High School until being asked to depart, and then matriculated at Deering High School until he departed on his own through a classroom window. As Mark Twain said, he never let his schooling interfere with his education. Without the benefit of a high school diploma, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and miraculously received an honorable discharge in 1950.

Jerry struggled with alcohol until he was twenty-five. Luck and good fortune lead him into the arms of Ann Duff and to the open doors of his first AA meeting.

Once Jerry put down the bottle, he picked up procreation and politics. He and his loving wife, Ann, brought thirteen children into the world, ten boys and three girls.

Jerry began running for political office in 1960. He unsuccessfully ran for Cumberland County Sheriff twice, losing by 13,000 votes the first time and 1,300 the next. His first of many successful runs for public office landed him a seat in the Maine State House of Representatives in 1964 with two individuals who would become life-long friends, Governor Joseph Brennan and Speaker John Martin.

Jerry served in the House until 1968 when he was elected to the Maine State Senate. He served as Assistant Senate Minority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, and, in 1983, he was elected President of the Maine State Senate. Jerry always referred to himself as a Democratic leader: “A minority I was born, a Democrat I have become!”

Jerry was elected to the Portland City Council from 1968–1977 and served as the city’s Mayor from 1971-1972. It was during this time frame under the guidance of John Menario, City Manager, and the City Council, that Portland began its transformation into the robust, energetic city we know it to be today.

Throughout his decades of elected service, Jerry also worked the grave-yard shift for twenty-seven years as a Clerk for the Portland Terminal Company at the Rigby Yard. He was a proud member of Lodge 152 of the International Brotherhood of Railroad, Airline and Steamship Clerks.

In 1985, Governor Joseph Brennan appointed Jerry as Chairman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission where he was delighted to award unemployment benefits to deserving workers throughout the state until he retired in 1992.

In 1992, Jerry returned to politics and was elected Register of Probate by the citizens of Cumberland County. When he was asked in his interview with the Portland Press Herald about what his qualifications were for the job, he told the Board that he got oxygen "above the shoulder blades.” He promptly received the paper’s endorsement.

In 2004, Governor John E. Baldacci appointed Jerry to the Maine Turnpike Authority and named him Chairman. Jerry presided over the five year, thirty-mile highway widening project, implementation of the EZ Pass electronic toll collection, and construction of the Turnpike Authority Headquarters which now bears his name. Jerry happily ended his public service along with many other Democrats upon the election of Governor LePage.

Once Jerry returned to private life he surrounded himself with his family, baked the best Irish bread in Maine (next to Claire Foley’s), and walked his dogs Duffy, and then Cassie, in Baxter’s Woods and along Baxter’s Boulevard.

Besides his family, Jerry loved Portland, especially the West End, his trips to Ireland, and St. Dominic’s Church, now the Irish Heritage Center. He considered his receipt of the second annual Claddagh Award in 2009 from the Irish Heritage Center to be a very special recognition. Though he sponsored many pieces of successful legislation, his greatest self-reported accomplishment was passage of his bill to decriminalize public intoxication.

He was a wonderful husband, father, Irishman, and Democrat. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten by those who loved him.

The Conleys wish to give huge shout outs to Eddie Kelleher, Mary Najarian, David and Barbara Victor, Phil Regios, Ricky Roberts, Rubin Segal, the Currans of Spiddal, the O’Neills of Newmarket-on-Fergus, the Visiting Nurses Assoc., and the Mercy Hospital and its staff.

Jerry was predeceased by his wife, Ann, in 1992, a daughter, Mary Catherine, 1975, and a son, John, 2010, as well as his brothers, Thomas, Richard, and Donald and his sister, Jean Cornicelli. Jerry is survived by his brother, David, of Souderton, PA; his daughters, Jean M. Greenwood, and her husband, Richie, and Ann Nora Murphy, of Portland; his sons, Gerard P., Jr. and his wife, Mary of Portland, Richard P. and his wife, Kathy, of Bronx, NY, Thomas M. and his wife, Jayne of South Portland, Peter H., Patrick G., Daniel E., David J., Donald J., all of Portland, Kevin D. and his wife Kelly of Westbrook; grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, all too numerous to name.

A Celebration of Jerry’s Life will be held at 1PM on Sunday, January 7 2018 at the Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray Street, Portland. Parking is available at the Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11AM on Monday, January 8, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, 492 Ocean Avenue, Portland. Arrangements are under the direction of the Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State Street, Portland.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray Street, Portland, Maine 04102


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Previous Events

Celebration of Life

Sunday

7

Jan

1:00 PM
Maine Irish Heritage Center

34 Gray Street
Portland, Maine 04101

Mass of Christian Burial

Monday

8

Jan

11:00 AM
St. Pius X Church

492 Ocean Ave.
Portland, ME 04103

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