Gerard P. Conley Sr.

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Gerard P. Conley, Sr., 88

PORTLAND – Gerard P. Conley Sr., of Portland, passed away on Jan. 4, 2018, one day after his 88th birthday.

He was in the presence of his family at the Mercy Hospital in Portland, the same hospital in which 12 of his 13 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 Jan. 3, 1930, the third of six children with whom 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 25. Luck and good fortune led 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 13 children into the world: 10 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 lifelong 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 city manager John Menario 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 graveyard shift for 27 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 editorial board that he got oxygen "above the shoulder blades." He promptly received the newspaper'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, 30-mile highway widening project, implementation of the E-ZPass 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 Woods and along Baxter 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 Association, and the Mercy Hospital and its staff.

Jerry was predeceased by his wife, Ann, in 1992; a daughter, Mary Catherine, in 1975; and a son, John, in 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, N.Y.; Thomas M., and his wife, Jayne, of South Portland; Peter H., Patrick G., Daniel E., David J., and Donald J., all of Portland; and Kevin D., and his wife Kelly, of Westbrook; and grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandchildren, nephews and nieces, all too numerous to name.

A celebration of Jerry's life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, at the Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St., Portland. Parking is available at the Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, 492 Ocean Ave., Portland. Arrangements are under the direction of the Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State Street, Portland. To view Jerry's memorial page or to share an online condolence, please visit:

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Funeral Home
Conroy Tully Walker Funeral Homes and Cremation Services
172 State Street
Portland, ME 04101
Published in Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Jan. 5, 2018
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