Thomas Constantine, who led NY State Police and DEA, remembered as ‘great American’

constantine-funeralThe funeral services for Former New York State Police Superintendent and former chief of the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency Thomas A. Constantine, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady on Friday, May 8, 2015. Photo by Patrick Dodson.

By Steven Cook
Gazette reporter

SCHENECTADY & NISKAYUNA — Near the conclusion of Friday’s funeral service for the late Thomas A. Constantine, Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese described Constantine’s long career in policing.

This was a career that saw the longtime Schenectady resident rise in the state police from the rank of trooper to head the agency and then saw him move to Washington to head the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Tom Constantine,” Hubbard told those gathered at St. John the Evangelist Church, “stands for all that is good, noble and indispensable about law enforcement.”

Constantine was also, Hubbard said, a loving husband to his wife of 55 years, Ruth, as well as a father and a grandfather.

“So we come together today,” Hubbard said, “as a community of his family and friends to give thanks for the life that he lived, for the faith that he had, for the love that he shared.”

Those family and friends, along with local, state and national law enforcement, came together Friday to honor Constantine at the iconic Schenectady church. Constantine died May 3 at the age of 76.

Among the national law enforcement officials mourning Constantine was a man Constantine worked with in Washington, former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Constantine grew up in Buffalo but later adopted Schenectady as his home. He joined the state police in 1962 and took the top job in 1987. In 1994, he was named by President Bill Clinton to head the DEA. Constantine later even worked to help reform policing in Northern Ireland.

For much of his career Constantine called Schenectady home, although he spent his later years in Niskayuna. In 1996, Schenectady bestowed upon him its highest honor, naming him a Schenectady Patroon.

“To be successful in life, in any endeavor personal or professional, you have to make good decisions,” Constantine’s brother, George, said at the service, “Tom had a tremendous ability to see all sides of a problem. He also had the courage and the integrity to make a decision, to act on it, even in pressure and time-demanding situations.”

George Constantine recalled how as a boy, his brother purchased a candy bar that was broken, so he refused to accept it. George Constantine joked that might have been the first indication Thomas Constantine was headed into law enforcement.

“To him, there was a right way, with a whole Hershey bar,” George Constantine said.

What was truly remarkable about Thomas Constantine, George Constantine said, was that he never let anything take precedence over his religion or his family. He said he knows his brother is in a better place.

“What he did and accomplished, both personally and professionally, he left us with a much better place,” George Constantine said. “And God bless him.”

The celebrant for the service, the Rev. Richard Carlino, recalled Thomas Constantine had the gift of affirming anyone.

“He wanted you to feel like a million bucks,” Carlino said.

Constantine’s many statewide, federal and overseas positions showed leaders recognized his professional gifts and put them to use for the common good, Carlino said.

Before the service, current state police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico recalled for reporters that Constantine was an innovator responsible for many of the programs in place today, including the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team program, drunken-driving checkpoints and putting drug seizure money to use to build the state police lab system.

“I think he personifies public service,” D’Amico said, “I think not only for the state of New York and for the state police, but for his efforts in Washington with the DEA.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who better describes public service than Tom Constantine.”

Constantine was laid to rest in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna. Under Friday’s clear sky at the cemetery, D’Amico presented Constantine’s widow, Ruth, with an American flag. Seated next to Ruth was former FBI director Freeh.

Freeh had hoped to attend and speak at the church service, but travel delays prevented that. Freeh, as FBI director, worked with Constantine through Constantine’s tenure heading the DEA.

In remarks to those gathered at the cemetery, Freeh recalled Constantine as someone who was “absolutely devoted” to his family.

“He spoke about you all the time,” Freeh said.

Freeh called Constantine a “great patriot, a great American.” Law enforcement, Freeh said, is the first line of defense, a safety net for the country.

“Tom was at the pinnacle of that,” Freeh said, “but he never lost his humility or his sense of purpose and his clarity of purpose.”

This story originally appeared in the Daily Gazette. See more photos at dailygazette.com.