Clem Roy, lobbyist and bon vivant, dies at 65

Clem Roy, one of most delightfully idiosyncratic characters ever to grace the halls of the state Capitol, died today at Hartford Hospital, just weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Roy, 65, was a successful lobbyist with a largely business clientele, but a much, much broader portfolio of interests and causes.

He managed 1981 mayoral campaign of Thirman Milner, the first black mayor of Hartford. He was deeply interested in the arts. He gambled, golfed and enjoyed cigars. Women tended to find him charming, and not only the three he married.

The staff on second floor of the Conklin Building at Hartford Hospital had to wonder just whom they had as their guest for the past few weeks. The stream of visitors included legislators, a former governor and a prominent restaurant owner.

The latter brought Roy’s favorite steak, along with a favorite waitress to serve it. As was his habit at the restaurant, Roy was gracious to the wait staff, then crabbed at the owner about how the meal was prepared. The owner was delighted.

Roy grew up in Bristol. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, then got involved in politics, volunteering for Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968. He was a committee clerk at the Capitol more than 30 years ago, then became a lobbyist in an era where the ethical and cultural norms were a tad more relaxed.

His first lobbying client was a bank sent his way by the chairman of the banks committee.

In later years, his business partner was Craig LeRoy, a buttoned-down yin to Roy’s yang. Leroy is married with three children, who saw their father’s partner as an impossibly colorful uncle. Roy and LeRoy each seemed to live a little vicariously through the other.

Conversations with Roy were wild rambles. Topics might include his system at slots, his vote for Barack Obama in 2008, or his resolve not to vote for him in 2012 over Obama’s absence from Arlington National Cemetery one Memorial Day. Unforgivable in Roy’s view.

He took no offense, however, when it once was noted in a news story that Roy’s clients included Big Tobacco and the funeral industry. He repeated the line often.

Roy insisted he didn’t talk to reporters. He did lobbying, not PR. He reminded me of that every time we talked.