A guardian of Fire Island steps back
Originally published: July 19, 2011 9:33 PM
Updated: July 19, 2011 10:08 PM
Photo credit: STEVE PFOST | Over 20 years, Gerard Stoddard has earned a reputation as a tireless protector of Fire Island's shores and the interests of its residents. He stepped down from his position as president of the Fire Island Association in May. (July 18, 2011)
In 1987, Gerard Stoddard was on the board of the Fire Island Association when he was made chairman of a committee charged with finding a president for the organization.
They searched, but no one volunteered. So Stoddard stepped forward. "Nobody would do it," he said. "I found it fascinating."
More than 20 years later, Stoddard has earned a reputation as a tireless protector of Fire Island's shores and the interests of its residents -- by partnering with the National Park Service, lobbying politicians and shepherding the association's day-to-day operations.
In May, Stoddard, 76, of Ocean Bay Park, stepped down as president -- though he remains on the board as a director emeritus. Many extol his passion for the island and his ability to advocate for its residents.
"He is a champion for the Fire Island community and though he will be missed as president of the Fire Island Association, I am pleased that he will remain involved on these important issues," Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said in a statement.
Stoddard's motivation is simple. "If you have a community that you care about, you want to protect it," he said.
His community activism began in the 1970s. Interested in land use issues, Stoddard got involved in the Ocean Bay Park Association. There, he worked to get green space -- which developers wanted for retail -- designated as parkland.
In the 1980s, he became president of the Ocean Bay Park Association, which automatically placed him on the board of the Fire Island Association.
Stoddard said he focused on building an amicable relationship with the Fire Island National Seashore, a division of the U.S. National Park Service, which he said residents at times feared would kick them off the island.
National Seashore superintendent Christopher Soller has known Stoddard more than 30 years. "He's kept issues alive and people focusing on them," Soller said. "He doesn't let up."
Stoddard, a retired public relations executive and summer island resident who lives in Manhattan the rest of the year, said he worked on shore protection and zoning issues. He kept politicians updated by lobbying and building relationships.
"Jerry and I have stood side by side in many battles to protect, preserve and improve" Fire Island, Israel said.
Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan has worked with Stoddard for five years. "He's really incredible," Nolan said. "He was always reasonable and intelligent."
John Lund, president of the Davis Park Association, said Stoddard pushed agencies at all levels to move forward with comprehensive shore protection plans. "He's definitely bringing a passion to it," Lund said.
"He's devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy and determination," said Suzy Goldhirsch, Stoddard's successor as president.