The following profile was prepared by The FUND for Lake George prior to its 2021 merger with the LGA.
As a teenager, Elizabeth “Betty” O’Connor always wanted to work summers on Lake George. Her father had other ideas. “He thought the New York Telephone Company was the best place for a girl my age,” she says with a laugh, fondly remembering her Dad’s late 1940s mindset.
But after college, a career as a school teacher, and 19 years as a stay-at-home mom, Betty (O'Connor) Little went to work on behalf of the Lake — first as a Warren County Supervisor, then as a State Assembly Member and finally as the nine-term State Senator for the 45th Senate District, encompassing the entire Lake George watershed and beyond.
Over the past 34 years, Sen. Little has worked tirelessly year-round to protect the Lake’s incomparable water quality and the regional economy that depends on it.
As she prepares for retirement from the Senate at the end of this year, The FUND for Lake George salutes Sen. Little for her dedication, passion and unbridled enthusiasm for The Queen of American Lakes.
Time and again, our Senator has supported legislation and budget measures that have helped protect the Lake from invasive species, road salt and other threats. Every day, in Albany and beyond, she serves as one of the Lake’s greatest ambassadors, sharing stories of its beauty and encouraging her fellow legislators and everyone she talks with to experience it firsthand.
“As she prepares for retirement from the Senate at the end of this year, The FUND for Lake George salutes Sen. Little for her dedication, passion and unbridled enthusiasm for The Queen of American Lakes.”
“Lake George is for everybody,” she says. “People can just enjoy looking at it, or they can go out on a boat or swim or otherwise recreate on the water and really see and experience how beautiful a lake can be when it’s taken care of.”
Sen. Little first began taking care of the Lake as a Warren County Supervisor in the mid-1980s when the “alarming” discovery of Eurasian water milfoil necessitated prompt corrective and preventive action. In 1995, as a member of the State Assembly, she was a leading proponent of the State’s Invasive Species Council, an entity created to coordinate invasive species response efforts among state agencies and provide matching grant funding to municipalities and lake associations for eradication efforts.
In the Senate, she has been a vocal advocate for the mandatory boat inspection and decontamination program now in place on Lake George, the strongest program of its type east of the Mississippi. She has also been a leading voice on the importance of road salt reduction in the Lake George watershed, securing $200,000 in state funding that has helped fuel the highly effective Lake George Salt Reduction Initiative led by The FUND for Lake George with participation from Warren County, local municipalities and private businesses.
“Protecting the water quality of Lake George is extremely important for so many reasons — for the economy, the environment, recreation and people’s overall enjoyment,” the Senator says. “It’s also important for maintaining property values and property tax revenues.”
“We’re so fortunate that we have The FUND for Lake George, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, the Lake George Association, the Lake George Land Conservancy and the Lake George Park Commission all watching out for the Lake,” she says. “I know of no other lake that has that level of protection, regulation and oversight.”
“And, of course, the Jefferson Project is becoming known throughout the country for what they are doing here,” the Senator adds, referencing the groundbreaking environmental monitoring and research collaboration between The FUND, IBM Research and RPI that has made Lake George “The Smartest Lake in the World.”
As a former teacher, mother of six and grandmother of 18, Sen. Little believes strongly in the importance of education when it comes to protecting the Lake, particularly in helping people understand the importance of inspecting and decontaminating their boats before launching.
“I think if people boat, they really and truly want a clean lake where they can enjoy their boat and go swimming,” she says. “They just have to be taught about the dangers of invasive species and the importance of clean, drain, dry.”
It’s this shared commitment to public environmental education and community collaboration that has led Sen. Little to work closely with The FUND on a variety of Lake protection initiatives over the years. “The FUND is leading the way in demonstrating the fundamental power of purpose-driven partnerships and shared investment,” she wrote in a recent letter applauding The FUND’s science-guided work. “As such, The FUND has been able to do more with shared resources to educate and raise awareness, thereby fully enacting positive changes.”
Now approaching her (youthful) 80th birthday, Sen. Little talks proudly about a couple of her grandchildren who seized the opportunity she missed sixty-plus years ago and worked this summer as Jet Ski and pontoon boat tour guides on the Lake. “They enjoy watching people enjoy the Lake, and they’re proud to show it off,” she says.
Asked what makes Lake George so special, the Senator doesn’t hesitate. “The crystal clear water. The clarity is just unbelievable and it’s so important for tourism.”
She says that’s been evident this summer more than ever.
“Everything’s been cancelled,” she says, “all the special events, everything. But the people have come in droves. Just being here is important to them.”
The FUND for Lake George thanks Senator Betty Little for being here for Lake George for more than 30 years.