Remembering Yates County's champion, Mike Linehan

Gwen Chamberlain
Mike Linehan lived to share summers on the lake with his daughters, Meaghan and Morgen, says his wife, Molly.

Even if you don’t believe in such things, when you think of Michael Linehan, remember the beautiful snowfall early last Wednesday. Linehan, who died unexpectedly at about 4 a.m. Feb. 15, was always fascinated with weather, and one of his last posts on facebook was a forecast for snow showers in the area. The storm was brief and concentrated on Yates County, according to a Rochester TV meteorologist. When the big fluffy flakes began to fall, perhaps it was Mike’s way of showering his beloved area with love one last time.

Since the President/CEO of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce passed away, the community has been trying to make sense of the loss, sharing shock, sorrow, and sadness in posts on facebook and conversations around town.

As word of his death spread, his wife, Molly, suddenly finding herself making decisions she wasn’t expecting to make at this stage of their life together, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of community strength she and her two daughters were feeling.

She says she is humbled by the support she has received from the Penn Yan area community. But it’s no surprise that the death of someone like Linehan would have such an impact.

Linehan will be remembered for his always positive attitude, quick wit, and endless generosity.

“Yates County lost a dear friend today,” said Kathy Waye, chairman of the Yates Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.  She praised Linehan as a tireless advocate for local businesses.

“He served the chamber for over 20 years. His enthusiasm and love for Yates County and Upstate New York are the reasons he was chosen to lead the chamber,” stated Mike Manahan, former chamber board chair and a close friend.

State Sen. Tom O’Mara was one of the first to react to the news, saying “I am deeply saddened to learn of Mike’s passing… There was no better advocate and fighter for the future of Yates County, and I will miss his friendship, his guidance, and his leadership. It’s a tremendous loss.”

Yates County Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis led a moment of silence during a special legislature meeting Feb. 16, when he called Linehan the community’s champion.

“Mike Linehan lived and breathed for Yates County and our vibrant Finger Lakes way of life. At every turn of a community event, there was Mike with his constant encouragement and support to make this a better place to live. His presence will be deeply missed as we continue to grow our business climate and sell our opportunities to the world. Mike was widely known and respected in the tourism promotion world. He has led us in our expansion of our tourism industry and leaves us with many opportunities for even more growth. We express our condolences to Molly, the girls, and the rest of Mike’s family. We were fortunate to know and work with a man of Mike’s energy and enthusiasm. He will be missed, but his mark on this community will remain.”

“Nobody made their role in improving Yates County more personal than Mike,” comments Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center, adding, “For nearly 25 years, he made any project or development in the county personal. If he thought an effort would help his community, he’d vigorously support it. With equal determination, he’d fight against an effort if he believed it not beneficial to the community.”

But he was so much more than a community leader. He was a steadfast friend during a time in need, a sounding board who could help sort out solutions to a complicated problem, and he could make everyone feel like his best friend.

“He was just such an extraordinary person. I cannot picture my everyday life without him,” says Jody Tyler, who has worked with him at the Chamber of Commerce for several years.

“Everything he did was to benefit someone else or this community. He would go out of his way to make someone feel loved. He had that wonderful infectious laugh, so full of life and such a happy person to be around,” Tyler adds.

Most knew Mike as a tireless advocate for business and tourism, but Molly and their daughters, Meaghan, 9, and Morgen, 7, knew a different dimension. While Molly says the “public Mike” might find himself in the middle of touchy conflicts, he could walk into their home and turn off the work-a-day worries to focus on the girls.

“He lived for his daughters.” says Molly, adding, “He is so proud of everything they do.” Molly says each of the girls have a piece of his personality. Meaghan is the caring soul who would do anything to help anyone, and Morgen is the fiery spark of energy that lights up the room. She says Mike was never afraid to embarrass himself for a good laugh, and she sees that same trait in Morgen.

She and the girls have special memories they’ll cherish. Those memories center on summer weekends in the boat on Keuka Lake, watching his daughters in sports, drama productions, or simply enjoying each other’s company while he whipped up a new recipe in the kitchen.

His family might have been his priority, but he always threw himself into every project that helped enhance the community. From the recent Chamber Dinner/Dance early in the year to Cruisin’ Night and the Sidewalk Sale during the summer, the scarecrow competition in the fall, and StarShine in December, Mike was the driving force behind year-round festivities. On top of those events, he could often be found helping out at local winery events, and was an ever-present figure at travel and tourism shows around the northeast. When local businesses wanted a tour guide for potential top level employees, they called on Mike. When travel writers visited the region, he found a way to satisfy even the quirkiest desires, simply because it would help shine the best light on the Finger Lakes. But then, you know there had to be a part of Mike that just wanted to see what would happen next when he found a special place by the lake for one writer to practice yoga at sunset.

The desire to share his love for the area wasn’t born here, however. According to Molly, it began years ago in Hammondsport, when as a little boy, he set up a tourism booth on a village corner, handing out brochures about the area to passersby.

Tyler often got so see him in action, as he romanced visitors with stories of the area.

“Mike would often sneak out of his office and come help us girls with visitors. He was such a wealth of knowledge, and the stories he would tell visitors had them in awe and so excited to be in our beautiful area.”

Struggling to find a lone special memory she wants people to hold onto, Molly says, “Just hang on to the good memories. He didn’t want sadness.”

In addition to his work at the Chamber of Commerce, Linehan was active in a number of tourism organizations in the Finger Lakes and New York State, often in leadership positions. A strong supporter of local emergency volunteers, he would drop everything to help a friend in need. He went out of his way to keep tabs on aircraft activity in the area. He has served on the advisory board at LNB, was chairman of the Keuka College Community Advisory committee, and was recently named to the board of directors of St. Mark’s Terrace. 

Turn to page 6 for Linehan’s obituary.