“Colonel” Marty Rochelle


“Colonel” Marty Rochelle
A WVOX and WVIP Commentary
By William O’Shaughnessy
November 24, 2014

One of Westchester’s most beguiling and colorful characters passed away over the weekend.  Marty Rochelle left after 78 years and with his departure everything becomes duller, flatter and less vibrant.  The fun is taken right out of our humdrum, every day existence here in the county.

He was out of Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner.  Jimmy Cannon could also have written of him. To no one’s surprise at all, “Colonel” Marty Rochelle, as he was known far and wide, came out of Yonkers … where true love conquers.  I mean he had to come from Yonkers.  For you could never place him in Bedford or Rye or Pound Ridge for very long.  And certainly never in Bronxville or Waccabuc. 

At about 325 pounds, he was (no pun intended) the biggest bail bondsman on the entire Eastern Seaboard, which line of work brought Mr. Martin Rochelle into almost constant daily contact with criminals, crooks and deadbeats just as soon as they were about to become “defendants.”  As the pre-eminent bail bondsman of his time, that’s what he did for a living.  He would bail them out.  He would spring them.  And in this endeavor it helps if you know the judge.

Marty Rochelle knew the judge.  Every judge.  He also knew every law clerk, every secretary, every marshal who keeps order in every courtroom.  The range and weight and depth of his Rolodex matched his ample girth.

And, if you can believe it, he was a real, actual colonel in the Air National Guard (New York State really does have one) which is where the “Colonel” comes from.  That’s what our fellows at WVOX called him when he arrived, always several hours early, for his weekly radio program bearing two dozen Dunkin Donuts – one dozen for himself, of course, and one for the studio engineers and staff.  I know of this because – full disclosure – he always brought a butternut covered donut for me.  “Don’t touch that one … it’s for the boss!”

He would also come accompanied by the very latest behind-the-scenes political gossip often mixed with rip-roaring tales of wrong-doing and skullduggery in just about every city hall in Westchester.  He just knew of all these things.

But his specialty was the courthouse.  And he knew every judge who ever donned a black robe to go up and sit in a courtroom under the “In God We Trust” sign.  And there wasn’t one jurist or magistrate who wouldn’t come off the bench to take his call.

Recent years were not kind to this marvelous old character who was in and out of many hospitals as he fought what Mario Cuomo and the great Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin call “the diminishments” we all suffer.  It’s a great word:  diminishments. And yet despite those diminishments and infirmities, Marty Rochelle kept going.  First with a cane.  Then with a walker.  He did his last few radio shows from a hospital room propped up on a pillow raging into the phone as usual.  And I do seem to recall him calling out His Honor, the Chief Judge of the entire Court of Appeals, the highest judicial tribunal in our State, for some “error” – real or imagined – that didn’t sit quite right with Colonel Marty.  He could do this and get away with it because all the judges loved him.

And if they didn’t actually “love” him, well, they knew that when they next had to submit to the nasty and altogether unpleasant rigors of re-election to keep their standing and high estate in the judicial system, they knew that the man who knows everybody would be right there to tell any and all who would listen just exactly what great judges he knew them to be.

Marty was also capable of delivering an extra line or two on the ballot come Election day, which prowess also no doubt commended him to the favorable judgment of a most grateful magistrate or two over the years.

If you doubt the man had real clout and influence … I will leave you only with an actual scene just last year at the White Plains hospital … when one evening during visiting hours Marty’s hospital room was filling up like a political convention.  And according to several who were there assembled by his bedside on that very night … the head nurse burst in at one point and said, “You’re only supposed to have two visitors at any one time. … there are 10 people in the room … we can’t have this!”

Colonel Marty looked up from his bed and said, very politely:  “Ma’am …  six of them are supreme court justices … two are county criminal court judges … and the other two are family court judges.  Who do you want me to throw out?”  The nurse retreated and the “party” went on.

There will be many Marty Rochelle stories told at the Riverside Chapel in Mount Vernon on Wednesday and in every courthouse south of Albany.  But the little “gathering” up in White Plains that night is my favorite.

The man had his “enthusiasms” during the 78 years he pumped life and energy into his profession and Westchester itself.  Among them were the casinos of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Foxwoods and the Bahamas for he was a gamblin’ man. But his favorite venue for games of chance of an evening was always Tim Rooney’s Empire City right in Marty’s home heath at Yonkers Raceway.   “They’re honest people, the Rooneys … you really have a shot there!”

Marty also loved Jeanine Pirro and he never gave up on “Judge Jeanine” even after she dumped everyone in the old neighborhood and went on to FOX News to display her famous lips and toned arms, among her other attributes. 

He also would not permit anyone to do injury to this community radio station or its inhabitants – even divorce lawyers.  Especially divorce lawyers.  And as my mind drifts back through the hundreds of conversations we had, usually over those damn fattening donuts, I can’t recall him ever saying anything really mean or hurtful about any of those who inhabit the judicial world which he knew so well or the body politic.

We can’t really afford to lose too many Marty Rochelle types around here.

Because, like I said, only dullness will prevail … everywhere.

I just hope Saint Peter likes Dunkin Donuts.

But don’t give him the butternut, Marty.  Save that one for me.

This is a Whitney Media commentary.  This is Bill O’Shaughnessy.