Robert C. “Josh” Randall, local radio news anchor for WGHQ, real estate broker and tireless advocate for historic preservation, died last week at age 78.
As the chair of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission and a member of the Conservation Advisory Committee, Randall was deeply involved in preserving the town’s heritage. His wife, Martha “Marti” V. Tidwell Randall, said he saw the need for responsible development through his work as a real estate agent.
“Josh believed there are ways to develop land without destroying its value,” she said. “Some people in real estate promote aggressive development because that can be a way to become rich, but Josh cared more about the good of Saugerties than getting rich.
“I first heard Josh on the radio, and what a wonderful voice he had,” Marti said. “I had never paid any attention to a newsman, because I couldn’t understand them. I had no idea that I would ever meet him (Josh), let alone marry him or have the life we ended up having. But I loved to listen to him.”
Josh Randall had worked for the station for a stint in 1968, and again from September 1981 – January 1983 as news director, said station owner Walter Maxwell. “At that time we had four people in the news department, and we did 15 minute newscasts six times a day. News was a big part of our operation. Josh Randall was always completely involved with the programming,” he said, adding, “we never had a complaint about his coverage; he was a straight-shooter.”
The Randalls’ anniversary was May 5. Mary Ann Wrolsen, a member of the Conservation Advisory Committee (CAC), of which Josh Randall was also a member, drove Marti down to the hospital so she and Josh could have an anniversary dinner together. “I told him when I entered the room that I brought his bride.” He died the following day.
“He did so much for the town; I’m really going to miss him,” Wrolsen said.
He frequently attended town meetings, and was the CAC liaison to the Planning Board, where he kept an eye on new developments and their environmental effects.
“Josh was a firecracker,” said Saugerties councilwoman Leeanne Thornton. “He had this explosive personality; when he entered a room, you knew he was there. He would be very quiet, you knew he was processing the conversation, and you knew he was thinking. Then all of a sudden he would make this profound statement. He would say, in effect, the individual who was speaking was full of BS, but in a nice way. He had so many life experiences in his different careers, he had a perspective that not too many people can bring to an issue.”
Elizabeth Shafer served with Randall on the CAC for five years. “He was very knowledgeable and very diplomatic,” she recalled. “I really enjoyed working with him. After several bouts of cancer he wanted to keep working; he had the future of Saugerties in mind and worked pragmatically to achieve it.”
Stephen Shafer said Randall was known for his focus on Ulster’s role as both a modern and a historic county. While his background was in business and real estate, “he was very knowledgeable and sensitive to historic tradition,” he said.
Sophie Sirpanlis, the retired former owner of Sirpanlis Real Estate in Lake Katrine, echoed this description, adding that Randall strongly favored development where appropriate, and was a strong salesman as well as an active, absorbed employee. “He was a friend, associate and my right hand for almost 20 years,” she said. “He took care of things when I wasn’t there.”
Barry Benepe, who worked with Randall on the Historic Preservation Commission, said, “he was a terrific leader; his heart and mind were invested in preservation, and he followed through. He kept copies of the law, and he worked well with the Town Board.”
The Historic Preservation Commission, under Randall’s leadership, was able to preserve a good deal of Saugerties history. The notable loss was the town’s refusal to name Augusta Savage Road, the site of a 19th-century African-American community and earlier Native American settlement, as a historic landmark, Benepe recalled.
Michael Sullivan Smith, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, recalled Randall’s early interest in the commission. He and Marti attended nearly every meeting, and when an opening occurred, he was appointed.
“He and Marti were a good organizational influence,” Smith said. “Josh had the type of personality that kept things on an even path. He wanted to keep our attention on very solid activities.”
Many people who worked with Randall expressed amazement at the wide variety of occupations he had worked in over the years.
“He was in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he was stationed in Canada,” said Gerry Marzek, a CAC member. “He was on a reconnaissance aircraft; he was a photographer and they would put him in the belly of the beast, like in the gunner’s turret with cameras looking down. They would be looking at Russian cargo ships going to Cuba, to see what they had on board. He focused his lens, and he looked down, and all he saw was the barrel of something, a gun pointing up. He started yelling, ‘diversion tactics, diversion tactics.’ He said they had to land in the Canary Islands, first to clean out their pants and then to refuel the plane.”
Marti Randall, who has been writing a book on Winston Farm, said there are parts of the property that have been essentially untouched since the Paleo-Indian – prehistoric tribes – settled there. Seeking a productive use for the farm that would also preserve its historic and natural aspects was a large focus of both Josh and Marti’s efforts. While she believes the farm needs to be developed, any development needs to be sensitive to the historic significance of the site, and the Indian sites should be left untouched, she said. Marti and Josh had long been supporters of preservation and appropriate development of the farm, she said.