Robert J. Riley, a former town of Saugerties police chief who many local residents came to know as school children during his decades as a popular bus driver, died suddenly, Friday, Nov. 11 at Kingston Hospital. He was 69.
Born May 28, 1942 in Kingston, he was the son of the late Charles and Theresa Casey Riley. He was a lifetime area resident and a graduate of Saugerties High School.
Karl Lezette of Lezette Express, where Riley worked up until his death said he was “deeply saddened,” by Riley’s death. “It’s a big loss for all of us,” Lezette said. “He was family.”
Riley started working at Lezette, which provides school bus service for the Saugerties school district and portions of the Kingston school district, in 1961.
“He worked for my great-grandfather, my grandfather and now me,” Lezette said.
Earlier this year, Riley was named the Ulster County School Bus Driver of the Year, an award Lezette said Riley was “very proud of, as were we.”
Riley joined the town of Saugerties police department in its infancy. (The village’s department was much older.) After his father, Charlie, who was the police chief, died, Bob left Lezette to succeed him as full-time chief in 1972. One of the first officers Riley recruited was current police chief Lou Barbaria, then a village officer. Barbaria, along with Clark and Bill Johnson, came aboard and received their training at the same time.
“He pioneered this agency,” said Barbaria. “It was a shock to all of us when he passed. He was so healthy, he would always ride his bicycle.”
“Our condolences go out to the family. It was a big loss for the community, and a loss for us at the police department.”
He is survived by his wife, the former Mary Grace Wynn. She remembered when the two were young. They met at the Valley Wick Ranch. It was “love at first sight.”
Mary boarded a horse at the now long-gone ranch, and Riley shoed horses, something he learned to do at an early age and ended up becoming one of his many careers.
“We talked a lot, we fell in love, and a year later we married,” Mary recalls.
Survivors include a daughter, Deidre Hufnagel of Saugerties; a brother, James Riley of PA; a sister, Theresa Martino of Saugerties; and several beloved pets. He was predeceased by a son, Robert Riley, Jr., and a brother, Charles Riley. His funeral was held Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Seamon-Wilsey Funeral Home in Saugerties.
To send the family a condolence visit www.SeamonWilseyFuneralHome.com.