by Sue Giustino
With an infinite number of acquaintances, friends, and family members, Marilyn is a cherished member of the Montauk Community. Her years of dedication to her family and our community makes her a perfect choice for this years Grand Marshal. Marilyn’s daughter Bridget put it beautifully, “I am just thrilled to see my mom get this wonderful honor. I have watched her work so hard over the years planning and celebrating the past grand marshals’ festivities that this year should be nothing but fun for her, and I’m looking forward to watching her enjoy all the honor and glory of being Montauk’s 60th Grand Marshal.” Congratulations Marilyn and enjoy the festivities.
A resident of Montauk for over 50 years, Marilyn is a familiar face around town- as are her children Jason, Jack, and Bridget; all growing up here in Montauk. Born in Flushing Hospital, Queens, and daughter to Marion and Jim Sullivan, Marilyn was an army brat. Her father, a warrant officer, ran a motor pool, and for many years they moved around the country.
Until one day her mom said, “Enough, I’m going back home.” And so, they did! Back to Queens, where at the age of 16 Marilyn first met John Behan. They dated, and each Friday night ate fish dinners at his parent’s restaurant in College Point. They lost touch when his parents moved to Montauk where he graduated HS in ’62, and then joined the Marine Corp. After her graduation from St Agnes all-girls school in ’63, Marilyn went on to pursue a business/secretarial degree from Catherine Gibbs in Manhattan.
With a degree in hand, Marilyn got a job working for the art director at American Home Products. She moved into NYC, got an apartment with two roommates, and that’s where she stayed for 5 years. Apparently, her new boss was quite a colorful character. Occasionally, he would take the job on the road, to the horse races to be specific. Marilyn went with him to answer phones and be sure that everything was ok at work. She remembers him as kind and that he treated her respectfully. However, when he got a promotion, due to there already being an assistant in place, he was unable to take her with him. Eventually, she moved on to Booz Allen Hamilton-management consultants where she worked for the VP. They would visit business and format a plan for management and increasing profitability.
One night, during a weekend visit to her parents in Queens, Marilyn and friends went to the Behan’s restaurant- a popular local gathering place. John, also visiting from Montauk with friends, was there as well. After catching up for a while, he invited her to Montauk to visit with his family, whom she knew well from their younger years. The rest is history. Married in ’68, they set up home in Montauk where they raised their three children, Jason, Jack and Bridget.
As a young newly married couple, they opened a liquor store in Montauk. She told me she knew nothing about liquor, except ‘how to drink it’. So, one week in, when John got a bad case of the flu and had to be out for three weeks, she had to learn fast. And the adventure began; throughout the years she weaved a life for her and her family, holding numerous jobs and volunteer positions around Montauk.
In 1969 Marilyn joined the Montauk Village Association, where she recalled working for 20 years with great Montauk women, including but certainly not limited to the Duryea’s and Potts. Their work was for the betterment of Montauk, and that included holding an annual fundraising cocktail party, ‘Greenery Scenery’. One year, the director met Broadway producer Norman Kean – and tapping into local celebrities, he helped bring the event up a level to be a ‘Celebrity’ Cocktail Party. Held at the Mtk Manor in the grand ballroom, the ladies worked endlessly organizing and preparing the space. At long last, the evening came, with the guests dressed to the nines, their work paid off with everyone enjoying the successful gala event.
Three children and about ten years later, the Behan’s were selling Christmas trees on the green when John was approached by Eddie Ecker about getting into politics. Eddie must have been quite persuasive, because Marilyn recalls this as the moment John’s ‘love affair’ with politics began. By then the liquor store was sold, and in 1978, John went to Albany to replace Perry Duryea as a member of the State Assembly.
Meanwhile, Marilyn was quite busy on the home front, raising three kids and working part-time at the medical clinic. In addition to working, she volunteered at school events, and as a boy scout and girl scout leader. She didn’t like that being a woman, she wasn’t allowed on the camping trips with the boys, but she enjoyed taking the girls. One time she told me about was a trip to Falls Point in Big Reed.
As Marilyn reflected about those days, she said, “I was a single mother for thirty years.” Weekends when John returned, they spent on their boat; fishing, and going to Block Island-anchoring in New Harbor for the weekend. Finally, when Bridget was born, not being the only female anymore, she told John they needed a bigger boat- one with a bathroom. “No more bucket!” Those must have been great times for Marilyn and her family, and are now wonderful memories that made her smile as she shared them with me.
Her involvement in Montauk also includes serving as the Executive Director of Montauk Chamber of Commerce. Working as an assistant to the director in 1988 and for about two years, she applied for and got the job as Executive Director, which she held until 1995. Marilyn talked about being involved in the very first Fall Chowder Festival Weekend. With about 13 pots of chowder donated by the local restaurants, they sold cups, had a petting zoo from Rita’s stables, face painting, and pumpkins for the kids. “It was a good weekend, and we made money.” commented Marilyn.
As director, she also represented Montauk businesses. One important issue she recalled being deeply involved in was the Room Tax, put in place by the county which was supposed to last just one year. She went to the courts, as the chamber director and a Montauk representative, and spoke against its continuation. The problem was that Montauk had over 35hundred rooms and therefore contributed the most tax money, which was supposed to go towards education/arts/and tourism- only Montauk didn’t receive a fair percentage. In addition, the hotels had to collect, hold, and send the tax money to the county which added to their bookkeeping responsibilities.
In 1995 during the administration of Governor George L. Pataki, John was appointed to become the director of the State Division of Veterans Affairs. At this point, the kids were grown, so Marilyn retired from the Chamber and moved with John to Albany. She worked for Governor Pataki on the MAT-Marketing, Tourism and Advertising Program. While in this position, she became an advocate for Montauk with the state, helping market tourism. She also ran the ‘I Love to Ski Program’ for the state of NY, which was already in process, but needed to be tweaked and organized.
By this time, it should be apparent that Marilyn Behan is a doer. It’s hard for me to imagine her as the politician’s wife that she described to me during our chat. Holding her tongue and opinions, doesn’t seem her style now. But during her husband’s time as a politician, it was what had to be. As she put it, “He was a republican and I a democrat, we didn’t discuss politics.” She added, “After 35 years keeping a low profile, when John retired, it was my time to shine.”
Marilyn had an opinion, or many opinions… and she was eager to share them! After they retired from Albany and moved back to Montauk for good, she even gave a shot to being elected to the town board; hoping to continue some of the work she did in Albany- representing Montauk for the community. Although she lost the election, she truly believes in her platform; for the town to spend money in Montauk, to help it be a beautiful place for its residents and for tourism, and especially to promote the Harbor area. “I love the harbor.” She told me. “It feeds the world. Fish come in and out of here, it’s world-renowned.”
In 2001 with Marilyn and John at home, retired, she decided she needed a job. So, after telling Henry, “You need me!”, Marilyn joined the Uihlein family. For ten years, she worked at the Uihlein’s Marina and Hotel in Montauk; running everything from day-to-day office operations, to staff training, and billing.
In addition to everything else, Marilyn Behan has a long history as a volunteer with the Montauk Friends of Erin. As a matter of fact, she told me that she’s a bit concerned about the boys. While speaking with me about being the Grand Marshal, she said, “I know those boys will get back at me now.”
Not long after they moved to Montauk, she went to her first FOE gathering in the basement of the church; both her husband and his father were members. Some of the members’ wives were cooking corned beef and cabbage for after the parade. In the beginning, she remembers having one job that stands out, going to NYC to find ‘Big Hats’ at a haberdashery for the ‘Big Heads’ that didn’t fit in a standard size! This was the start of her involvement, and she is still an active part of the group today. Her son’s Jason and Jack are also in the FOE- carrying on the family tradition.
In 1988, John, with Marilyn’s help, decided to hold a St. Patrick’s Grand Marshal Luncheon to honor the outgoing Grand Marshal, as well as to welcome the new one. The first luncheon was held at Gurney’s Inn. It started as a luncheon for men only, all except for past Grand Marshal Mary Gosman and her guest, her daughter Roberta. Eventually Marilyn convinced John to open it up to women. She told him, they needed to liven it up by having the wives be a part of it. In 1990 Marilyn and some of the wives got involved; helping to organize, selling tickets and doing raffles. In addition to a roast, John and Marilyn also started the ‘skits’ poking fun at the Grand Marshal. It was a family effort, one year even the Behan boys got involved for Jimmy Hewitt’s luncheon. She and John ran the luncheon for years, and recently she volunteered to start doing it again- however COVID stopped that from happening. However, Marilyn and the Friends of Erin Ladies Auxiliary helped with many fundraising events over the years, including raising money for the parade with the infamous ‘Pub Quiz’.
It’s been a year since Marilyn lost her husband, and she seems to be doing wonderfully. Looking as beautiful as ever, and keeping busy with her kids- Bridget, Jason and Danielle, Jack and Nancy, and grandchildren- Samantha, Jack, Harry, Teddy and William. She told me she also loves fishing and baking. You can even sample some of her treats at Shagwong, as she is their dessert chef.
When I asked how she was feeling about the honor, she replied, “I’m humbled and at the same time paralyzed… with joy, obviously.”
Marilyn Behan is such a dynamic person; outgoing, strong, friendly, and fun. I’m thinking this parade season will be one for the books. Be sure to join her in the festivities:
Saturday, March 5, 17th Annual Corned Beef & Cabbage Dinner at Shagwong Tavern
Friday March 25th 12 noon-The Grand Marshal Luncheon at Gurney’s Montauk
Saturday March 26th 4-8pm The Friends of Erin Cocktail Party also at Gurney’s Montauk -followed by a visit to local restaurants and bars with members of the Amityville Pipers
Sunday March 27th 12 noon kick-off [from the front of the MTK Fire Dept.- through town] for the 60th Grand Marshal of the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade– -followed by a visit to other local restaurants and bars with members of the Amityville Pipers.- https://montaukfriendsoferin.org/events for additional information