When Jim Owen, well known as “The Mayor of Redfield Parkway,” had 16-year-old Kathleen Courtney as an 11th-grader in his typing class at Hamburg Junior-Senior High School, little did he know that someday she would become the first female governor of New York State.
But he did see some personality traits and skill sets that he says have served her well throughout her political career.
Courtney was part of that typing class in 1975, about eight years into Owen’s teaching career that included 36 years as a full-time instructor and the last 18 years as a substitute teacher in the Batavia City School District.
Forty-six years later, Courtney, now Kathy Hochul, will assume the state’s highest office on Tuesday. She is succeeding Andrew Cuomo, who is stepping down following a state attorney general’s report that he sexually harassed 11 women.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied the accusations, but said he is resigning in the best interest of the state.
The “best interests of the state” will become the responsibility of Hochul, 62 (she will be 63 on Aug. 27), who, according to Owen, is prepared to do a great job.
“One of the things is that she is a person who communicates with many people,” Owen said of Hochul, who has been New York’s lieutenant governor since 2014. “In my opinion, she makes people feel important; she makes people feel comfortable, and I think she is a great listener.
“I always remember when she said, ‘If it’s a Republican idea and it’s a good idea, I’ll take it. If it’s a Democratic idea and it’s a good idea, I’ll take it. If it’s a Conservative idea, I’ll take it; if it’s a Liberal idea, I will take it. Her bottom line is that she is going to do the best for the people of our state.”
Owen admitted that it’s impossible to please everyone, but is convinced that Hochul will put her best foot forward.
“Obviously, you can’t win everybody’s opinion, but she will do her darnedest.” He said. “She’s a fighter. She’s not that tall, but she grew up with a family of great athletes … good competitors, and she is, too. Of course, in typing, she did her work.”
The teacher and student have kept in touch over the years; they usually meet at Batavia Muckdogs’ games when Hochul is in town. Owen said he got a surprise call earlier this month.
“Last Friday night, Friday the 13th, about 5:30 in the afternoon, I was at Stafford Country Club and I got a phone call from 716 (area code). I thought it may be a scam, but I decided to answer it,” he offered. “Well, it’s Kathy. She’s calling me, thanking me for saying nice words about her in a story on Spectrum News – which I thought was kind of neat. That was kind of a class act that she would give me a call.”
Owen also was quoted in a story published today in the New York Daily News:
“Jim Owen, who taught her in a 28-student typing class when she was a junior, said he would not necessarily have guessed at her political future given her soft-spoken and studious nature. But he said her determination shined.
“She was a very hard worker,” recalled Owen, 78, who’s now retired and lives in Batavia. “She made the teacher look good.”
Hochul, on Aug. 12, confirmed that she plans to run for a full term as governor in 2022.
Photos: Kathy Courtney Hochul's graduation photo; her and Jim Owen at a Hamburg Alumni Foundation event; the duo at a Batavia Muckdogs' game. Photos submitted by Jim Owen.