As if creating a new municipality from scratch as Key Biscayne’s first village manager weren’t challenging enough, Sam Kissinger’s tenure was christened in 1992 by the monster known as Hurricane Andrew.
“Sam knew nothing about hurricanes and was shocked at what he saw,” recalled former Councilmember Betty Sime Conroy, who was part of the committee that conducted a national search resulting in the hiring of Kissinger.
“Winds up to 177 miles per hour hit Key Biscayne in the Category 5 story. But Sam rose to the occasion. He had out island cleaned up in record time.”
There was no question, Conroy recalled, “We found a winner.”
Sam, as most on the Key knew him during his 10+ years as Village Manager, passed away on Nov. 29. Since his death, his work has been recalled fondly by Key Biscayne residents and those who worked with him more recently in Indian Creek Village.
“Sam really got us going. He set the foundation for us,” recalled Conroy, a point reiterated by several current council members, including Mayor Mike Davey. “Sam got us going. A lot of the processes we use today were put in place by Sam.”
Before Key Biscayne, Kissinger was city manager in New Rochelle, NY, from 1975 to 1991, town mManager in Enfield, CT, from 1968 to 1975, township manager in Whitehall, PA, 1964 to 1968, and Assistant borough manager, Pottstown, PA, from 1959 to 1964.
After leaving Key Biscayne, Sam worked in Indian Creek Village for 17 years, and those who knew him there were equally impressed by the man.
“I had the pleasure of working with Sam as the mayor, vice mayor and councilman,” said Indian Creek Councilman Bob Diener. “Sam had the unique talent of making everyone he dealt with feel good about whatever issue he was involved with. He approached his work with great professionalism, a great attitude and was such a pleasure to work with… His passing is a big loss to our community.”
Chris McDonald, a police captain in Indian Creek Village, agreed.
“l looked at (Sam) as a father figure,” he said. “He encouraged everyone to keep learning throughout their life. He loved to travel and he had been all over the world.
“He was very outgoing and an easy-to-talk-to kind of person. When he would ask you how is the family doing you knew he genuinely cared and wanted to know. He was a good person."
Back on Key Biscayne, attorney Stephen J. Helfman recalled Kissinger as a special man.
“I had the pleasure and honor to work with Sam for 28 years,” he recalled. “Sam was the consummate professional, highly ethical, a visionary and a true mentor to me and my partners.”
Helfman’s firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, PL does extensive work in government affairs throughout South Florida.
“His imprint will be on the Key forever,” Helman continued. “Sam was a kind man who will be terribly missed by all who knew him.”
In a testament to his professionalism, Kissinger was awarded the ICMA Local Government Service Award for 55 years of public service in 2016. The ICMA is the world's leading association of professional city and county managers and other employees who serve local governments.