NEW BRITAIN - As a lawyer, politician and proud resident of New Britain, John Brian Gaffney is being remembered today for humbly helping others and not seeking the limelight while doing so.
Known as Brian Gaffney, he died Saturday at the age of 85, leaving his wife, Mary Louise Blinn Gaffney, children and grandchildren.
“He was smart, but he was also very humble and very easy to talk to,” said Jay Malcynsky, who practiced law and government relations with Gaffney. “He was a friendly, engaging person, so people quickly became what they felt was good friends with Brian. He was very skilled at establishing relationships because he liked people.”
Gaffney began practicing law in New Britain in 1960 with his uncle, John (Jack) Downes, and retired 50 years later.
During that time, he was recruited by then- mayoral candidate Tom Meskill to be an alderman. He served two terms as an alderman and three in Hartford as a state representative.
Gaffney served on Meskill’s campaigns for mayor, congressman and governor in the 1960s and 1970s, and as chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party from 1971 to 1974.
He also co-chaired the Connecticut campaigns for presidential candidates Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992.
“He had a very keen sense of what would fly and what wouldn’t fly,” said Harry Mazadoorian, a distinguished senior fellow in dispute resolution at Quinnipiac School of Law. “Many people don’t know how (involved) he was in shaping public policy.”
Mazadoorian recalled Gaffney and state Republican leadership considering all options of policy implementation.
He also recalled Gaffney working the Republican convention floor, which was key in those times, in an influential but subtle way.
“He was a real dealer in a very quiet sort of way,” Mazadoorian said.
Gaffney started Gaffney, Bennett and Associates with Malcynsky and George Bennett. It is now one of the largest lobbying firms in the state.
“Brian Gaffney was the last of a breed of lawyers where his word was his bond and a handshake closed most of his deals,” said attorney Bill Sweeney, who has known Gaffney his whole life. “He was a person who loved people no matter where he was, whether that be in a courtroom, at a local coffee shop or at the state Capitol.”
“Between the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s, he was the Republican guy in the state. and (for) anybody coming into the state, he was the first call,” said Sweeney, a Democrat, adding that he and Gaffney got along very well despite their political differences.
“Brian always said it don’t matter who you play for as long as you’re a player,” said Malcynsky.
Gaffney was devoted to family and friends, Sweeney said.
Malcynsky and Mazadoorian both recalled Gaffney frequenting the YWCA health club for both exercise and social interaction.
“He had more news to give and insight than anybody,” said Mazadoorian, adding people would hang around his locker for some social discourse.
“The Irish have been known to have the gift of gab, and he had a very serious case of that,” said Sweeney.
Gaffney was on the boards of former Burritt Bank and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New England. He was active locally at Catholic Family Services, the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.
“He had his priorities right always, both personally and professionally. He was very loyal to his family and many good friends,” said Malcynsky. “If you asked him, he would say he was just a lucky kid from New Britain who went on to become a lawyer.”
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.