An attorney, husband, father and onetime Sea Cliff mayor, Francis W. Deegan always found time to mentor those who needed his help. And although he was known to be a no-nonsense kind of guy, he was also jovial, smart and compassionate.
Born in Glen Cove Hospital, he lived most of his life in Sea Cliff before moving to his summer home in Mattituck in 1998. Deegan died on April 18 of congestive heart failure, at age 83.
Travel and adventures were of the utmost importance to Deegan, said two of his four children, Kathleen Deegan Dickson, of Glen Cove, and Daniel of Sea Cliff. Perhaps that was a result of his upbringing. Francis’s father, Paul Deegan, a plumber from the Bronx, moved to Sea Cliff during the Depression to help build Glen Cove Hospital, but died when he was 50. Dan Deegan said that the brevity of his grandfather’s life and his long periods of unemployment made an impression on his father.
“He wanted to grab life now and live it to the fullest — now,” Dan said. “He was not a patient man. He did not put off living as something to plan for after retirement.”
Deegan was the first in his family to go to college, graduating from the University of Dayton. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School.
He married Nancy O’Connell, whom he met at UPenn, in 1964, and they had four children, Kathleen, Dan, Molly and Mary. They vacationed aboard the family’s 42-foot sailboat. Two of their sailing adventures were month-long trips, to the Chesapeake Bay and to Nova Scotia.
“Our vacations were travel adventures,” Kathleen recalled. “We never sat on the beach.”
“My favorite vacation was when we went up the coast of Maine to Nova Scotia,” Molly Deegan Breen, of Sea Cliff, recounted. “There were whales swimming alongside our boat.”
Family was very important to Deegan, Kathleen said. “He had two brothers who he would never dream of having a falling-out with,” she said. “It was something that kept us very close.”
Deegan was a Sea Cliff village trustee from 1971 until 1978, and was elected mayor in 1979, and served until 1983. He inspired his niece Eileen Krieb to become mayor, too, she said, from 2001 until 2009.
“After I was mayor, he said, why not work for the county?” Krieb said. She worked for the Parks Department for 12 years, and was its commissioner from 2018 until 2021. “I would have never pursued it if he hadn’t suggested it,” she said of her uncle. “He took care of all of us in his own way, and encouraged us to expand our horizons and embrace more in life.”
Former Glen Cove mayor Timothy Tenke knew Deegan for 45 years. Describing him as a “second father,” Tenke said he was surprised when he heard that Deegan had died. “He was larger than life,” Tenke said. “When he walked into a room, you knew Francis Deegan was there. He was the guy you thought would live forever.”
Deegan opened his Glen Cove law practice, Crowe and Deegan, in 1968. Over the years, other lawyers joined it, with the name of the firm changing when a new partner was added. Tenke’s father, Julius, was one of them when it was called Crowe, Deegan & Tenke in the later 1970s. When Tim graduated from law school in 1990, he worked there for a few years.
“Francis always gave great advice, especially when I became a lawyer,” Tenke said. “He was a great influence in my life.”
Deegan served as Glen Cove city attorney from 1994 to 1998. And he always wanted to give back to the community, Tenke said. He was the president of the Glen Cove Lions Club, and a member of many other organizations, Dan Deegan said. “He always said that the best title was at the [Glen Cove] Elks Club, where he was elected and served as the Exalted Ruler,” his son said. “Dad showed leadership and courage when he went to the Elks convention in Chicago and voted to open membership to all races, a position which some in his own club criticized him for at the time.”
Kathleen and Dan, who are now partners at Forchelli Deegan Terrana, both started their legal careers working for their father. “We learned so much from him, and he was our legal mentor,” Dan said. “He set us up for success, and then, as he liked to say, he got out of the way.”
Deegan was equally proud of his daughters Mary, who became an emergency room pediatric doctor at Winthrop Hospital, and Molly, who started her own business, Branch Real Estate Group, in Sea Cliff.
Dan said that he and his siblings are testaments to their father’s focus on education, drive and responsibility. “And he took special pride in raising three strong, smart, very accomplished woman into this world,” Dan said.
Former Sea Cliff Mayor Ed Lieberman remains impressed by Deegan’s efforts to revise and modernize the village code in the 1970s. “When I took over, it was a real inspiration for me,” said Lieberman, who was mayor from 2017 until 2021. “In 1979 he understood what had to be revamped, which today is part and parcel of how our village operates. I was inspired by him to fulfill his vision of a modernized village.”
Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy also admired Deegan. A former mayor himself, from 2009 to 2017, Kennedy said that Deegan was a mentor to him. “Francis got things done,” Kennedy said. “He believed that the ends always justified the means, and doing the right things for the right reasons was important. We had similar mindsets.”
Deegan made a difference in many people’s lives, Kennedy said, pseudo-adopting many young men who needed a father figure.
Molly said he always took the time to speak to her friends. “They were serious conversations,” she recalled. “Dad always encouraged people to go outside their comfort zone, to follow their dreams.”