By RAY DONNELLY //
Ten years ago Oct. 1, the region lost a strong, powerful voice in economic development, when C. Kenneth Morrelly passed away suddenly.
He died on the cusp of realizing a project he’d been devoted to for many years, the Homeland Security Research Center. The project was a centerpiece of his time as CEO and president of LIFT, the Long Island Forum for Technology.
October 1, 2009, was a red-letter day for the region’s economic development. The Empire State Development Corp. had organized and executed a very successful program showcasing Long Island’s regional strengths to foreign governments and trade officials, including a full day of meetings and tours of the then-Long Island Jewish Health System, Brookhaven National Laboratory and various university centers, culminating in a dinner at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center.
As deputy executive director at LIFT, I accompanied Ken through the day’s events, up to the gala dinner at SBU. As festivities were getting underway, Ken told me he was a bit tired and heading home. I was only partially surprised; it had been an intense day, and he was not big on the cocktail-circuit stuff. Plus, he had long drive to Southold.
At 7 a.m. the next morning, I received a call from a LIFT colleague telling me Ken had passed in the night, from a heart attack. I was saddened, stunned and speechless. And as one might imagine, I have replayed that last parting many times over the years, for its poignancy – although, of course, it resolves nothing.
Ken’s untimely passing was a body blow unlike any other. But the momentum for the Homeland Security Research Center was there – the project was underway and needed to be completed.
So, the small team at LIFT, along with the core companies committed to the effort, pulled together, and in March 2010 we launched the Morrelly Homeland Security Research Center, a project as big and ambitious as its namesake.
Ultimately, neither LIFT nor the center survived Ken’s passing – a sad outcome, but that’s for another day. The thriving Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview is a better story, and Ken’s vision was responsible for conceptualizing this project, too, and for securing its initial funding. Its success would make him proud, as he had a strong belief in the talent and skill of Long Island’s engineering community.
Shortly after Ken passed, SBU was hosting its annual energy conference, and Bob Catell, in his opening remarks, remembered Ken’s contributions to the region. In a gesture marked by the graciousness for which Bob is known, he noted that Ken was not a quiet man – so, rather than a moment of silence, he asked for a round of applause, which was both moving and in keeping with Ken’s persona.
To be fair Ken, could be a tough piece of work. As the saying goes, “He was a man who wouldn’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.” But he also had a softer side. He had a long marriage and was immensely proud of his daughter, Victoria.
Like all good leaders, he worked with passion, relentless drive and sharp focus. He also loved the water, so perhaps it’s best to close this remembrance with a nautical reference that captures his vision of economic development: When asked about economic growth and policy, President Kennedy often said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Ken’s leadership of LIFT and his work in the region embodied this philosophy. Clear sailing, Ken – you are missed, and remembered by those who were there.
Ray Donnelly is manager of business development at Ronkonkoma-based aerospace manufacturer Betatronix and the former deputy executive director of the Long Island Forum for Technology.