Joe Nicholson dies in accident

Joe Nicholson at a town board meeting. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Joe Nicholson at a town board meeting. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Joe Nicholson, a Woodstock community activist and retired patent attorney who moved to Woodstock in the early 2000s, died in an apparent kayak accident on Onteora Lake, off of Route 28 in the town of Kingston.

Nicholson, 52, was apparently fishing, something his many friends in the community said he loved to do. According to State Police BCI Investigator Sulli, there is no official cause yet listed, “but it doesn’t look to be suspicious at all.” His body was found Saturday, May 30 by some kayakers, and, according to Investigator Sulli, it did not appear that the body had been in the water for more than 48 hours. No flotation device was found and state police are still awaiting a toxicology report before closing the case. “It’s looking as if it were an unfortunate accident,” said Sulli.


The majority of Joe Nicholson’s career, according to his brother Jeff Nicholson, who traveled to Woodstock with their father Howard, was spent with the law firm of Kenyon and Kenyon, where he had interned and then worked his way up to being a partner, as a patent attorney in New York City, working also in trademarks copyrights and unfair competition cases. “He took a bit of an early retirement,” said Jeff Nicholson.

Joe grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with two older brothers. He graduated Boston University with a degree in Journalism, then went to George Washington University in Washington D.C. for his law degree. “He was extremely generous with his time and talent,” said Jeff, a fact that was confirmed numerous times by Woodstockers. “He volunteered to help many people in small disputes, did lots of pro bono work for civic organizations. He was a member of bar in New York, Washington D.C. and in two US district courts. When he was active, he regularly did pro bono work for artists with an organization, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.”

Retiring to Woodstock, Joe was immediately involved in the community.

“He became the prime mover on our Emergency Shelter team,” said Nina Sheldon. The project calls for establishing an Emergency Shelter in the Community Center in the event of extreme storms or disasters that force people from their homes. “We only have six or seven people trained, and Joe not only took both necessary trainings, but was a fireman.  He and Jim Dougherty had accepted the roles of Shelter Managers and completed the training for that position…We met with Transition only a few weeks ago. Joe was in great spirits and seemed healthy and happy. We urged Transition group leaders to sign up their groups to volunteer at the Shelter during a crisis and handed out sign-up lists.”
“Joe was heavily involved in Comeau Property,” said Ken Panza. “It feels like it was 20 years ago. When it was really a hot issue he was one of the active people in Friends of Comeau. Recently he’d been showing up at meetings with insights on ethics law. Was working with the smart meter people, with petitions and resolution.”

He was also a member of Fire Co. No. 4 in Zena, and active in Woodstock Library affairs, where he had once run unsuccessfully for the board of trustees.

“Joe cared for the people of the community way more than he cared for himself. He was a smart guy. He used his talents to help people,” said older brother Jeff.

Maya Hambright writes, “Dean Schambach and I spent this morning remembering Joe. He was like superman, fighting for truth and justice and the American way. He would become passionate discussing FOIA, the importance of volunteering for the fire department, and the rights of dogs in Woodstock. He fought for the underdog, for the kids, for the disenfranchised. He was civic minded and so very generous.

He was the smartest man I have ever met.

We will miss him, his company, his humor, his letters. We wish you peace Joe.”

Joe was never married and had no children. The love of his life was his dog, Odessa, who is now being cared for by a friend, while a more permanent home is sought.

He is survived by his parents, Howard and Judy Nicholson, of Milwaukee, and two brothers, Jeffrey of Milwaukee and James, of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

His remains will be cremated. The family is planning a memorial service in Woodstock in July, when more of his immediate family available. “Having experienced the overwhelming love and support of the community, we will be bringing some ashes to the memorial for the community to decide what to do with them,” said Jeff. “We hope to be sprinkling his ashes at some of his most favorite places.”

Nina Sheldon writes: “This poem was hanging from Joe Nicholson’s front gate (encased in a plastic cover) when Nancy Butler-Ross and I dropped by his house today to pay tribute.”


Joe Nicholson, 1963-2015

A Precious Human Life

“Every day, think as you wake up,
Today i am fortunate to have awakened.
I am alive, I have a precious human life.
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use
All of my energies to develop myself
To expand my heart out to others.
To achieve enlightenment for
The benefit of all beings,
I am going to have kind
Thoughts towards others.
I am not going to get angry
Or think badly about them.
I am going to benefit others
As much as i can.”
— H.H. The XIVth Dalai Lama

Friends of Joe Nicholson