Hometown: Peru, NY
Family: Husband of more than 50 years, Elmer; adult children John, Michelle; four grandchildren.
Occupation: retired New York State Assemblywoman
Community Involvement: Service includes a wide variety of organizations too numerous to list including Apple Valley Senior Housing Corporation, North Country Honor Flight, SPARCC, CVPH, North Country Hospice, and The Development Corporation
After 41 years of service to the people and government of the state of New York, local legend Janet Duprey finally allowed her loving family to convince her to retire in December of 2016. Duprey began her political career in 1975. Against the prevailing stereotypes, defining a woman’s place in the workforce in that decade, she was the first woman elected to the Clinton County Legislature. After 10 years of service, her next career move was just a few doors down the hall in the Government Center where she held the County Treasurer post for 21 years. Following encouragement and support of many friends Duprey decided to seek election to the New York State Assembly. She was elected in 2006 to represent the 114th district which, after reapportionment, became the 115th district which includes Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
Her ten years in that office brought many lasting improvements for her constituents, and it is clear that she is both proud of, and humbled by, her success and achievements. She is well known for her ability to build bi-partisan relationships and find the common ground needed to make real changes.
Duprey’s announcement of her retirement hit hard for many of her colleagues and constituents, but she knew she was ready. She retired as she served, driving two retirement receptions into a fundraising opportunity which resulted in donations of over $5500 to North Country Honor Flight.
Duprey met with Strictly Business recently to share some of her successes and lessons learned during her remarkable career.
SB: Why did you decide to go into politics?
JD: A member of the Peru Republican Committee asked my husband to run for the Clinton County Legislature in 1975. Elmer laughed, pointed to me, and said, ‘She’s the politician.’ The man went on to explain that there had never been a woman in that job and there should not be a woman in that job. He did not think a woman could do the job or even get elected. At the time, my son was about to turn seven and my daughter was four months old, but by the time he left my house my Irish heritage had kicked in and I was determined to prove him wrong. I don’t even pretend to be altruistic about running. I really didn’t know if I could win. Clearly, I could.
SB: What lessons did you learn as the first woman elected to the county legislature?
JD: In January of 1976 on the night I was sworn into office one of my new colleagues made a point to tell me that I should not expect congratulations. He told me that they didn’t want me there, that I didn’t belong there and they would get rid of me in two years. That was my first night. And it wasn’t a partisan thing, either. It was a tough way to start.
From that experience I learned that I had to be totally and completely prepared for every meeting, for every committee and for everything I was going to do. I understood that if I failed, they were going to say, ‘See? A woman can’t do this job.’ I was never going to let that happen. I learned to listen but also to think independently and to speak up. Now I’m sure people who got to know me at the end of my career would think that I could always speak up but I was very shy in the beginning. Speaking up for what I believed in was hard at first.
SB: Who is your most influential mentor?
JD: Kevin Carroll. I met Kevin when I was asked to join the hospital corporate board. He was the most brilliant person I’d ever known. He was an incredibly detailed person which I was not. I watched him analyze situations and come up with decisions in a way that I realized was the role model for how things should be done. I really tried to emulate that over the years. Not just talking to people, but really listening to come up with the right decision at the end. I know I learned more from working with Kevin than I did from anybody else.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
JD: Without a doubt it is my bipartisan relationships. For me this started almost immediately when I joined the county legislature as a Republican. There were some Democrat legislators who accepted me immediately, and worked with me. I am also proud of some of the votes I took in Albany. I followed my heart when making decisions and I think that is part of the reason why I got many of the awards I received. One of the votes that I’m most proud of is the Autism Insurance Bill. It’s something that is close to my heart. Few people know that autism was not always considered a health issue. This meant that health insurance did not cover speech therapy or physical therapy, etc., sometimes not even health care. I worked very closely with Democrat Majority Leader Joe Morelle on that bill. It was a struggle but bipartisan support got it done, and it has helped thousands of families.
SB: You are well known for your support of autism awareness. How did you become so passionate about this issue?
JD: I still get emotional when I talk about this. My grandson Jeremy was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was seven. We knew from a very young age Jeremy had some issues but we couldn’t put our finger on it. Once we got his diagnosis, we immersed ourselves in learning everything we could about it so that we were educated enough to know how we could help him. During the 10 years I was in the New York State Assembly, I passed the Asperger’s Syndrome Day resolution. This led to various governors declaring May 12 as Asperger’s Syndrome Day. I picked that day because that is Jeremy’s birthday.
SB: What is something that no one would guess about you?
JD: I love watching NFL football. One of the best parts about retirement is that I can watch it more now. When I was in the Assembly I couldn’t stay up late enough at night because I was exhausted some days. Now that I am retired, Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights I’m in front of the television watching a game. I like the New York Jets. I lived one subway stop away from Shea Stadium when the Jets first formed a team. I also like the Giants. I admire what Tom Brady is able to do at age 40. Honestly, I will watch any teams that are playing. I just really like pro football.
SB: What inspires you?
JD: One of the things that inspires me the most is speaking in our schools. I’ve been invited to speak at some of the high schools, colleges, and various youth programs. I just love to speak to any group, but there’s something special about speaking to students. I share my story with them. I’m a woman who wasn’t accepted at first. It was a different era back then, and I didn’t share that part of my story for many years. Now I realize how important it is. I’m a real person, just like they are, who actually made it to what’s considered the “big time.” I speak for maybe 10 minutes at the most, and then ask for questions. I always say there is no question that is off limits, and we have some amazing dialogue. I’m always impressed with the students who will attack some of the tough issues and put me on the spot.
SB: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
JD: It came from Andy Ryan. He retired as a Supreme Court judge, but before that he was in the New York State Assembly when I was a County Legislator. One day I was frustrated with the legislators. They didn’t agree with me on something. I don’t remember what the issue was but I remember that I thought something should get done and it wasn’t happening. Andy said that when he got to the Assembly, people told him he would never get anything done because he was in the minority. Andy shared with me that you can get any bill passed in the Assembly if you don’t care whose name is listed first. From Andy, I learned that it is all about ego. If you don’t let your ego get in the way, you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. At the time I didn’t realize how significant his advice was, but over the years it became a part of how I approached things.
SB: If you could have dinner with a well-known person, who would it be?
JD: Barbara Bush. I’d pick her because she was a classy lady and she spoke her mind. You always knew where she stood whether she agreed with her own family or not.
SB: If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?
JD: I would have gotten a college degree and I would have gone to the Assembly a few years earlier. I was actually asked to go earlier and I didn’t. I never expected to go. I had 10 great years there before I retired at age 70.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
JD: I showed up for work every day and tried to do the best job I could do. I am incredibly humbled by the support and the accolades I’ve received about my 41 years.