Joan Stratton, wife of congressman, mother of mayor, remembered

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B5

Date: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Many political spouses today are as well known as their elected husbands or wives, having their own political aspirations or choosing to champion charitable causes.

Joan Stratton, wife of the late U.S. Rep. Samuel S. Stratton, was not one of those people. She had what many would consider the hardest job -- quietly supporting a husband who served in Congress for 30 years while raising five children.

"My mom was the rock of our family," said Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton about his mom, who died after a short illness Monday in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 88. "My father never would have been able to do what he did politically or achieve the things he did as a congressman were it not for my mom."

Joan Harris Stratton immigrated to the U.S. at age 20 from Ireland after her father, an employee with the British treasury, got a job under the Lend-Lease program during World War II. She met her future husband while both worked in Washington, D.C.; she for a British embassy, he for the federal Far East Commission. The couple married in 1947 and moved to Schenectady the next year.

Sam Stratton, a former naval intelligence officer and philosophy professor at Union College, entered the political realm when he won a City Council seat in 1949. Six years later, he became mayor. In 1958, Sam Stratton became the first Democrat elected in his Schenectady-Amsterdam Congressional District in 42 years. Although the district was redrawn several times, Stratton held onto his seat until he retired in ill health in 1988. Michael McNulty was picked to succeed him. Stratton died in 1990 after suffering a heart attack.

The Strattons moved to Bethesda, Md., in 1963 so Sam Stratton could be close to his family when Congress was in session. Mardy Moore, who lived next door to the family on Balltown Road in Niskayuna before the Washington move, remembers Joan Stratton as a peaceful, loving person who fit her roll perfectly.

Moore, who had six children herself, often invited Joan Stratton over for tea and coffee. "She would never try to put herself forward," said Moore, a former Niskayuna town supervisor. "She was always supportive. If you lined up all the mothers of the world, she would rate pretty high."

Brian Stratton is the only child in the family who delved into politics like his father. The mayor said his mother always asked questions about city government, and wasted no time in telling everyone in her residential complex about her son's current job.

"She was a tremendous influence to me personally and politically," Brian Stratton said. "She was my biggest fan."

Joan Stratton, who lived on her own with minimal help until she contracted pneumonia last week, is survived by her children and 10 grandchildren.

Lauren Stanforth can be reached at 454-5697 or by e-mail at lstanforth@timesunion.com.



A memorial service will be Friday morning at a church in Springfield, Va.

Contributions in her memory may be made to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, 5020 Battery Lane, Bethesda, Md., 20814 or to any other charity.