QUEENSBURY - For decades, John D. Austin has served in Warren County as judge, lawyer, public servant and journalist.
He's investigated and reported the news, settled disputes, presided over family and criminal cases, and brightened many children's lives.
For the last seven years, serving as Warren County historian, he's helped people identify their ancestors.
On July 30, Austin, now 75, stepped down from his historian post - although he's likely to continue his genealogical research.
Without a doubt, Austin's history is as interesting as those he's researched.
Austin's early years, meetup with poet Frost
Austin's education had its roots in a one-room schoolhouse at Ridge and Hicks roads, where he attended second, third and fourth grades.
In high school, he launched his journalism career early, serving as a news correspondent for the Glens Falls Times.
Austin graduated from Glens Falls High School in 1953, and continued his studies at Dartmouth College. During his years there, he served as editor of the college newspaper, the Daily Dartmouth. While Austin was editor, the famed poet Robert Frost gave a talk to Dartmouth students, and Austin reviewed the event in the newspaper, Austin's brother Fred Austin recalled. Frost was so impressed with John Austin's write-up, he visited the college's president and asked to see Austin, who was summoned to the president's office to meet Frost.
Also while at the helm of the Daily Dartmouth, John Austin endorsed Dwight Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson for U.S. President, an action that prompted Eisenhower to send Austin a personal thank-you letter.
Austin graduated from Dartmouth college 1957 with a degree in sociology. He continued his studies at the University of Minnesota's graduate school - on a criminology teaching fellowship.
During his summers after college he worked on a tugboat/barge on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, and fought forest fires in Idaho.
In 1958, Austin enlisted in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany, as both a company clerk and a rocket launcher.
Austin as local journalist, lawyer, judge
Austin worked at the Glens Falls Times from 1960 to 1966 - first as a reporter, then advancing through several positions to editorial director. Also during this era, Austin served as editor of the Lake George Mirror for several summers.
Austin then enrolled in Albany Law School, received his law degree in 1969, and passed his bar exam. He practiced law locally from 1970 to 1980. During that time, he worked as an attorney for Frederick Bascom of Glens Falls, followed by his own private practice locally.
During that period, he was elected councilman for the town of Queensbury, was elected Queensbury Town Supervisor, and served on the county Board of Supervisors.
While practicing law, Austin worked as a part-time law assistant in surrogates' and county court, followed by a stint as a full-time law assistant from 1980 to 1984 for Warren County Supreme Court.
He was appointed in 1984 by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, as Warren County Family Court Judge, a position which he was re-elected to. Then in 1999, he was appointed county surrogate court judge, a post which he was re-elected to. He also served on special assignment as Supreme Court Justice, primarily in Nassau County.
Through all these years, however, he was fascinated with history and genealogical research. For decades, he helped many local people and families identify their ancestors. In the 1970s, he served as editor of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, a national publication. That same year, he was named a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, a honor bestowed on only 50 individuals.
When Austin retired from the bench in 2003, he was appointed as county historian, a role in which he served through last Friday.
During those seven years, he was instrumental in upgrading information technology in the historian's office, making many county historical records accessible by computer - much of it indexed.
Austin's wife of many years, Marcia (Behan) Austin, was a long-time teacher and school board member in the Queensbuy school district. She passed away in 1997.
John and Marcia's son Jay is an advertising agency executive in New York City, and daughter Susan Austin is a filmmaker, also in Manhattan.
John Austin continues to live in the historic family house in Oneida Corners, Queensbury.
Friday, Austin said his work as county historian was rewarding, but he was retiring due to health issues.
"Serving as historian was very enjoyable," he said. "I'm glad I was able to help people find out who their ancestors were."
Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed was among those aided by Austin in such a discovery. When Goodspeed was elected county District Attorney, Austin gave him a surprise gift: genealogical research that showed how Goodspeed was a descendant of John Richards a Congressman from Warren County in its formative years.
Goodspeed noted Austin was a remarkable speaker and creative writer, in addition to being an outstanding judge, lawyer, journalist and historian.
"John Austin has done it all," he said. "One time he finished a great speech by saying, 'I love this county,' - and that's John. He's been a tremendous resource for Warren County, but he's also been a great friend, someone you always trusted."