Jeffrey M. Killeen, the former president of The Fund for Lake George who helped negotiate the organization’s merger with the Lake George Association and became the new LGA’s first chairman, passed away on December 14 after a protracted illness.
Killeen was arguably the single-most powerful advocate for the protection of Lake George since the pioneering conservationist John Apperson died sixty years ago.
“Lake George is the Queen of American Lakes, and for what Jeff Killeen did for Lake George, he deserved to be called its king,” said Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais.
“Jeff’s work on behalf of the lake was never about Jeff. It was never about the organizations he led. It was about the lake, first, foremost and always,” said Dr. John E. Kelly III, former executive vice president of IBM and a member of the Board of Directors of the Lake George Association.
Kelly said Killeen “made a “science to solutions” approach the cornerstone of lake protection.
“And he raised the funds that would be required if that approach was to produce tangible results. There was no more staunch supporter of science-based solutions to environmental conservation than Jeff Killeen,” Kelly said.
“He had a larger-than-life persona, a limitless vision and a tremendous work ethic,” said Peter Menzies, who succeeded Killeen as the LGA’s chairman in 2022. “He set the stage for everybody who will follow him.”
“Save Lake George”
Mayor Blais began a close, decade-long association with Killeen in 2013, two years after Killeen was elected president of The Fund for Lake George.
As founding members of a loose coalition called “Save Lake George,” Blais and Killeen backed a mandatory boat inspection program on Lake George, and made a commitment on behalf of environmental protection groups and municipalities to pay for half the costs of the program, which the Lake George Park Commission launched a year later.
“We stood on the Pier in Bolton Landing and invited New York State to join us, urging the governor to appropriate the other half from the general fund so as to avoid raising fees,” recalled Blais.
The same group hired night watchmen to monitor the state launches, thereby sealing a gap in the lake’s new defenses which any number of invasives could have breached.
Since the Lake George Park Commission launched the boat inspection and decontamination program in 2014, no new invasive species has established itself in Lake George.
“Save Lake George” also took up the task of reducing the amount of road salt entering the lake.
“We began working to safeguard Lake George from salt contamination and in the past few years we’ve seen some very promising results in both salt reduction and cost savings,” said Blais.
In fact, the use of salt within the watershed has been reduced by 50%, putting the lake on a path to recovery.
The Jefferson Project
According to John E. Kelly, Killeen also played an indispensable role in the founding of the Jefferson Project, the collaborative effort of IBM, Rensselaer and The Fund to make Lake George a global model of ecosystem protection.
Kelly, who was Senior Vice President & Director of Research for IBM when he met Killeen in 2013, recalled, “Jeff made a cold call on me at IBM headquarters in Armonk and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Killeen showed Kelly a preliminary draft of RPI’s thirty year study analyzing trends in the lake’s water quality, which was financed by The Fund for Lake George, “and I was stunned by the rising levels of salt and the increase in algae, among other things, ” said Kelly.
Kelly proposed utilizing IBM’s advanced technology to gather more comprehensive data, and the Jefferson Project was born.
“Jeff recognized immediately that we had an opportunity to do something big, and he jumped right on it,” said Kelly. “It was a leap of faith for him, but he took that leap and never looked back.”
Merging The Fund for Lake George and the LGA
In 2021, The Fund and the LGA were merged, creating the largest, best-funded lake protection organization in the U.S. As a fifth-generation resident of Lake George, that was an especially significant milestone for Killeen. He served as chairman of the enlarged and energized Lake George Association from 2021 to 2022 and was its vice-chair at the time of his death.
“The merger of the two groups is Jeff Killeen’s greatest legacy,” said John Kelly. “Jeff was one of those few people who not only have a vision, but know how to execute it.”
“We knew the merger was the right thing not only for the future of the two organizations but for the future of Lake George,” said Peter Menzies. “Jeff had the vision and the determination to make the LGA a best-in-class organization.”
According to Menzies, who was the LGA’s president at the time, he and Killeen began discussing a merger in earnest in September, 2020.
In November, 2020, when Harmful Algal Blooms emerged in Lake George – the first confirmed outbreak ever and the first reported sighting in decades – co-operation between the two groups assumed a new urgency, accelerating the movement toward merger, which was approved by both groups in 2021.
“If the two organizations had remained separate, we would not have had the resources necessary to address the challenges facing Lake George and every other freshwater body,” said John Kelly. “For that, we need an organization of the new LGA’s size and scale.”
“Jeff Killeen’s vision was that Lake George would become the global standard for freshwater protection, and he was always thinking about the many ways in which the LGA could help us realize that vision,” said Peter Menzies. “He set us in the right direction.”
“He laid a great foundation for us,” said John Kelly. “We all wish he could have been here to help us grow, but everything is now in place for us to build upon that foundation. The greatest tribute we can pay Jeff Killeen now is to keep growing – bigger, better faster.”
A 1975 graduate of St. Lawrence University, Killeen spent four decades as an entrepreneur, CEO and board director in media, information services and internet industries.
Before devoting himself to not-for-profit organizations, Killeen was Chairman & CEO of GlobalSpec, a leading provider of digital content to the global design engineering community.
Earlier in his career, Killeen was founding CEO of forbes.com, barnesandnoble.com and Pacific Bell Interactive Media.
Killeen won professional recognition from both Crain’s and Folio magazines as “Top CEO” and “Most Visionary CEO.” He was recognized numerous times as a “Top 50 Digital Industry Leader” and, under his leadership, GlobalSpec was recognized as a “Best Place to Work Company” in the Capital Region.
In 2018, Killeen was elected Chairman of the Center for Disability Services, Upstate New York’s largest specialized education, residential and health care provider to those with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Killeen was elected a trustee of St. Lawrence University in 2019 and was slated to become the Board’s vice chair in 2023. As a St. Lawrence alumnus, Killeen served as a career advisor and Reunion planning chair and as a North Country Public Radio Executive Council member. He also played an instrumental role on the Experience St. Lawrence Task Force, lending the initiative his considerable strategic planning expertise.
In 2019, Killeen and his wife Judy were honored by Opera Saratoga for their contributions to the arts in the Capital Region.
A native of Schenectady, NY, Killeen’s home on Lake George was built in 1908 by his great-great uncle, L.W. Killeen. As a life-long resident of Lake George, Killeen was a connoisseur of antique and classic boats, owning award winning Fay Bowens, Hackers and Chris Crafts. To benefit the LGA, he donated his 1929 Chris Craft, “the Laker,” to the organization in 2022 as an auction item. Its sale raised $40,000 for lake protection.
Jeffrey Killeen is survived by his wife Judith and son Peter as well as a brother and sister, Richard Killeen and Susan Killeen Ramsay.