Cortland Police Officer Jesse Abbott enjoyed going in to Frank and Mary’s Diner and speaking with Thomas Hartnett.
“We were old friends,” Abbott said Wednesday. In 2017, Abbott asked Hartnett to pose for a portrait — a recreation of a Norman Rockwell painting featuring a boy, a cop and a diner cook. It hangs in Abbott’s office, and he gazed at it as he spoke of Hartnett.
Hartnett’s family announced Wednesday via social media that the longtime resident and Cortland County legislator died of cancer shortly before 12:30 p.m.
“He was at peace and surrounded by family and friends,” the announcement read. “We all know everyone wishes the best.”
Abbott added that he and Hartnett would share golf stories. “He was a remarkable golfer for a man with one arm,” Abbott said.
Hartnett, 61, a 1976 graduate of Cortland High School, was the owner of the diner on Port Watson Street in Cortland. He had served as a county legislator for 15 years.
Most recently Hartnett served as chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee.
He was a great legislator, said Legislator Chairman Kevin Whitney (RCortlandville). “He definitely cared about Cortland County,” Whitney said.
Whitney added that he always enjoyed going to the diner and talking to Hartnett.
A couple weeks ago, Whitney, joined by Eric Mulvihill, clerk of the legislature, visited Hartnett at home. “I’m glad I did that,” Whitney said. “We just caught up on old times. He was just a good, easygoing person to talk to.”
Mulvihill added he would miss his friend.
Steve Wineburg, owner of Bernard’s Custom Logo & Trophy next door to the diner, said he’d go to the diner a couple times a week.
“I just remember him from the time I was a kid,” Wineburg said. “He was always around and he was always a good guy who cared about his community.”
Earlier in the day, Wineburg said diner employees ordered memorial shirts to wear.
Tom Terwilliger, owner of the Red Jug Pub on Central Avenue, said Hartnett, or “Harv” as he called Hartnett, was a good friend. “He was a better one-armed golfer than many people with two,” he said.
It was the same for his cooking and bartending, Terwilliger said.
Terwilliger said Hartnett used to work at Jack Danielson’s, where Brix Pubaria now sits. “He could handle a whole bar on his own,” Terwilliger said. “He was pretty dynamic.”
Terwilliger also noted Hartnett was a level-headed political man who made a lot of sense.
“We just lost a good guy,” he said.
Hartnett is survived by his wife, Cynthia, and son Josh. Funeral arrangements are pending.