Lee Koppelman, 94, of South Setauket, died on March 21 at Stony Brook University Hospital.
Born in Harlem, New York, May 19, 1927, Koppelman served as the first Suffolk County regional planning board director for 28 years and also served as a regional planner for Suffolk and Nassau counties for 41 years. He was an early advocate for the preservation of open space and was responsible for drawing up Suffolk’s first comprehensive master plan in 1970.
Koppelman was a professor emeritus at Stony Brook University where he taught until last semester, according to his son Keith, and was the director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at the school. A parcel of land on the Stony Brook campus is named after him. He was also chairman emeritus of the Town of Brookhaven Open Space and Farmland Acquisition Advisory Committee.
Koppelman is survived by his four children Lesli, Claudia, Laurel and Keith; and three grandchildren Ezra, Ora and Dara.
A funeral will be held Thursday, March 24, at Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hadassah or Doctors Connie and Lee Koppelman Endowed Fellowship Fund in Political Science through the Stony Brook Foundation.
Look for an extended article on Koppelman’s life in an upcoming edition of The Village Times Herald.
Cindy M. Smith, a Stony Brook resident who helped organize community efforts against Gyrodyne’s development efforts in St. James, died Tuesday, Feb.15, in Manhattan. She was 61 and had leukemia.
A steadfast supporter of the arts, a dedicated environmentalist, and a proud advocate of the North Fork’s cultural heritage, Smith became a civic activist in order to protect the community’s quality of life, said her husband and business partner, Warren Strugatch.
“Cindy linked the Flowerfield project with increased traffic congestion,” Strugatch said. “The more she looked into the planning, the more she believed there was no planning. She hated politicians building a sewage treatment plant over Stony Brook Harbor and no one stopping them.”
To help civic leaders speak in a unified voice, Smith organized the Greater Stony Brook Action coalition in 2017. “The coalition came out of our conversations about Jane Jacobs and how she confronted Robert Moses in the 1960s,” said Strugatch. “Cindy enrolled eight civic organizations in the new coalition. Eight isn’t a huge number, but 30,000 is. That’s how many residents were enrolled in the civics, collectively. Now, politicians had to listen.”
Smith spoke exhaustively about how the planned development would snarl traffic up and down the North Shore. “Cindy understood that medical facilities are the worst traffic generators you can imagine,” said Strugatch. “Thousands of people come in and out at all hours. Cindy pressed the fact that traffic would be at perpetual standstill.”
Smith also researched sewage runoff, toxic sewage effluent, emergency vehicle access, and damage to historical continuity and quality of life.
“Cindy didn’t think the project was good for either Brookhaven or Smithtown,” said Strugatch. “She felt public opinion would turn when people learned the truth. That’s exactly what happened.”
James Bouklas, president of We Are Smithtown, said: “Stony Brook and Smithtown residents have lost a tough fighter and a true friend. She worked tirelessly to sound the alarm about how our water, traffic, and quality of life are in danger.”
Friends and allies describe Smith as a big supporter of the arts, which she often called an economic driver. While confronting Gyrodyne over its development plans, she applauded the company’s support for onsite arts programs such as the Atelier studio and the Brick ceramics studio. She was a regular at studio openings, often leaving with spur-of-the-moment purchases.
“Cindy and I became friends after running into each other at community art exhibitions, concerts and gallery openings,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. “Cindy was passionate about the arts and recognized the positive impact local artists have on enriching our community, our cultural experience and unique sense of place.”
Born in Smithtown in 1960, Smith was the daughter of Lawrence Smith Sr, who owned auto restoration shops, and Patricia (Slattery) Smith, a homemaker who eventually worked in the home mortgage industry. She and her younger brother Larry distributed Pennysavers after school in various neighborhoods, earning money their parents put toward college tuition.
As a girl, Cindy attended Sweetbriar Elementary School andAvenue Junior High School. She graduated from newly constructed Smithtown West in 1979. Throughout high school she volunteered at the Smithtown Public Library and other community programs.
As an undergrad, Smith attended Hofstra University where she studied marketing and communications. She interned at the Smithtown News under editor Vicky Katz, who later taught at Stony Brook University. “Everything she knew about communications, she attributed to Vicky,” Strugatch said.
After graduating Hofstra, she took the first of a series of small company marketing jobs. Blockbuster Entertainment hired her in 1985 as Northeast marketing director. Her experience promoting the 50th anniversary videocassette release of “The Wizard of Oz” provided her favorite career story.
Responsible for getting major media coverage of the anniversary release, Smith led a tour of midtown Manhattan for several actors who’d played Munchkins in the film. At nearly six feet tall, Smith towered over her charges. The appearance at Carnegie Deli produced major media coverage.
When Blockbuster’s growth slowed down, Smith was hired by the EGC Group, a marketing and advertising firm. As a vice president she handled accounts of Brother International, Häagen-Dazs, the International Flower Bulb Center, the Long Island Aquarium, and the Oyster Festival. “Everything I do is about customer experience,” she once said.
After EGC, Smith partnered with her husband, Warren Strugatch, creating a consulting organization called Inflection Point Associates. The company helped clients improve efficiency, increase sales and profitability, and create scalable growth solutions. The company also provided event management and marketing services to clients across the Northeast.
In recent years, Smith served as vice president of Select Long Island, a pro bono effort to raise Long Island’s stature among corporate location advisors. She helped organize a groundbreaking economic development meeting bringing together Long Island’s top economic development officials in April 2019.
Smith purchased a rambling home in Stony Brook 20 years ago and, with her father’s assistance, converted the purchased house into a residential showplace photographed by décor magazines. She and her husband hosted many small gatherings of local artists, musicians, and arts administrators. Many featured Smith’s extensive collection of Christopher Radko holiday ornaments and 11-foot Christmas trees.
Ned Puchner, executive director of Gallery North in Setauket, recalled how Smith “helped welcome me and my family into this community. She made me feel supported as both the new director and as a person trying to find his place” here.
In addition to Strugatch, Smith is survived by her brother Larry, an industrial executive; his wife, Dawn Smith, and their daughters, Lauryn and Kathryn.
Another cultural leader, Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, described Smith as a familiar face at openings and educational programs. “Cindy was a person full of grace and deep humanity,” he said. “She had a sense of caring and knowing that shined through.She was also whip-smart. We have lost a wonderful part of this arts community.”
Hospitalized in late September, Smith received treatment for leukemia at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine’s oncology program. Her husband said he held her hand just before she died, unquestionably seeing the grace of God in her forgiving face — three times. Hours later, she died as her husband retold her Munchkins-in-Manhattan story to a trio of visiting doctors.
“I got to the end, and she breathed her last,” Strugatch said. “She finally went over the rainbow. Cindy always had exquisite timing.”
Cindy M. Smith was buried Saturday, Feb. 19, and services were held at Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown. In addition to friends and family members, speakers included state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn.
Cindy will be remembered for dedicated service preserving our community’s quality of life,” said Englebright. “She was a great civic leader. The work she did to hold the line on overdevelopment means a lot.”
Strugatch said: “Cindy was a very gentle soul and an extraordinarily kind person. But she was a firebrand when it came to defending her community.”
Clark Gillies, a former member of the New York Islanders, died Jan. 21 at the age of 67. The Greenlawn resident played left wing for the Islanders when they won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83.
Members of Huntington’s Town Board, Supervisor Ed Smyth and councilmembers Eugene Cook, Joan Cergol, Dave Bennardo and Sal Ferro remembered the hockey player in a joint statement where they called him “a pillar of our community” and said he had a “larger-than-life personality.”
“His ice hockey career is legendary, eclipsed only by the great work he did after he hung up his skates,” the board wrote. “Clark always ensured that the spotlight reflected off of him onto a variety of worthy causes, including a new pediatric wing at Huntington Hospital.”
The hockey player founded the Hauppauge-based Clark Gillies Foundation. The nonprofit helps children who are physically, developmentally or financially challenged through medical services, family financial aid, events to enhance a child’s quality of life and more, according to the foundation’s website.
In addition to Huntington Hospital’s pediatric and pediatric emergency units named for Gillies, the foundation has also partnered with former Islander Pat LaFontaine’s organization to create the Brianna’s Cub Room at the hospital.
Huntington Hospital executive director, Dr. Nick Fitterman, commented on Gillies passing.
“On the ice, Clark Gillies was known as an enforcer, but to us at Huntington Hospital he was known for his friendship, generosity and work with children,” Fitterman said. “Mr. Gillies was an extremely kind and tender person, really a big teddy bear. He would deliver gifts to children during the holidays, and he treated everyone he met with respect. His legacy will live on through the Clark Gillies Pediatric Emergency Unit at Huntington Hospital. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
Kathleen Lanese, of Kings Park, and Elyse Henn, of Ronkonkoma, both worked on fundraisers with Gillies when he participated in the annual golf outings organized by the nonprofit Michael W. McCarthy Foundation. They also volunteered for the Clark Gillies Foundation in the past.
Lanese said it was a privilege meeting Gillies after watching him play for the Islanders when she would attend games with her father and described the hockey player as warm, generous and funny.
“In addition to his incredible work with his own foundation, he never hesitated to extend his generosity to other organizations,” Lanese said. “He supported all my charity events with sponsorships, signed jerseys and his presence — he never said no, and I usually didn’t even have to ask. He took a genuine interest in my boys, both on the autism spectrum, and how autism affected families like ours.”
Henn echoed the sentiments.
“He had enough smiles, love and stories for everyone,” Henn said. “He had a true love of life and his community. If you met him once, he treated you like a friend. He was truly one of a kind. Not just a hockey legend, but a true gentleman and friend. He will be truly missed. He had a zest for life that is inspiring.”
Before playing hockey, Gillies played three seasons of minor-league baseball with the Houston Astros farm team, according to the foundation’s website. When the Canadian native switched sports, he played junior hockey with the Regina Pats for three seasons in the Western Hockey League. He was drafted to the Islanders in 1974. He went on to be a 1st team All-Star in 1978 and 1979. He was MVP in the 1979 Challenge Cup series versus the Soviets, where he played for the Canadian team.
In 1986, Gillies was drafted to the Buffalo Sabres and in 1988 he retired from hockey. He was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2002 he was elected into the NHL Hall of Fame.
According to Gillies’ obituary in The New York Times, he is survived by his wife, Pam; daughters Brianna Bourne, Jocelyn Schwarz and Brooke Kapetanakos; and eight grandchildren.
The Port Jefferson community has come together to mourn the loss of one of their own, 11-year-old Aida Ramonez who died unexpectedly Jan. 5.
On Saturday, Jan. 15, several dozen people gathered on the lawn of the First Presbyterian Church in the village to pray and remember the vibrant, young girl who was taken far too soon.
“Aida was something else,” said her mother, Lolita. “She was extremely outgoing. She would stick up for her friends, was anti-bullying and absolutely loved animals and her life.”
The Port Jefferson middle schooler had moved with her family from Mastic Beach just three years prior to her death, but in the short amount of time she graced the village, she touched the lives of dozens of people — young and old.
During Saturday’s vigil, classmates of the sixth-grader held onto sunflowers, Aida’s favorite flower. Small white lanterns were lit, decorated with purple ribbons while prayers were said and “Amazing Grace” was sung.
Nicole Jacobs said that Aida befriended her daughter in school after the Ramonez family moved to the district. The two girls would go trick-or-treating on Halloween together and visit the water park in the summer.
“She was very wise for her age,” Jacobs said. “She was so compassionate. Very loving and free-spirited. She was such a good kid, finding the positive in any situation and who sought out the kids who didn’t always fit in.”
But along with being the girl who chose to be a friend to anyone and everyone, her true passion was animals, Lolita said.
“We nicknamed her the chicken whisperer,” she laughed, fondly.
Lolita went on to remember how one of the family’s chickens fell ill. The chicken, who barely approached anyone else, trusted Aida and allowed her to feed its medicine.
“She’d massage the chicken and say, ‘Don’t you give up on me!’” Lolita said. “She wanted to be a vet.”
The chicken survived and is thriving to this day.
Aida also loved art — it was one of her favorite subjects in school along with science.
“She was an incredible artist and was an excellent student,” Lolita said. “She even made it to the honor roll at the end of their marking period. She was so proud of that.”
Aida’s former fifth-grade teachers at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, Laura Kelly and Paige Lohmann, said in a statement that Aida had “so many wonderful qualities and gifts that made her stand out.”
“Her love for her family, care for animals and loyalty to her friends were most important to her. At such a young age, Aida believed in using her voice to speak up for causes that she believed in. She had a keen sense of who she was and how she can make a difference in the world through her thoughtful words and caring actions. We will always remember Aida and her high hopes and dreams for life and the world around her,” the teachers said.
During Saturday’s event, Robert Neidig, assistant superintendent of Port Jefferson School District, remembered his student.
“Aida, although she was a quiet young girl, had such an intense focus of maturity about her,” he said. “She once wrote that one of the things that made her happiest was being kind to others. It is this endearing quality that helped brighten up the spaces that she inhabited and allowed her to have such an enormous impact on our entire community.”
Neidig went on to mention, that the outpouring support of the community standing together on that cold Saturday was a true testament of what Aida always preached — kindness.
Mayor Margot Garant said that although tragedy strikes, the vigil proves how Port Jefferson comes together in times of need.
“The ceremony was moving and shows that here in Port Jefferson when we lose a resident, young or old, our community is impacted as if it were our very own,” she said. “This is what we mean by ‘Port Jeff Proud,’ and ‘Port Jeff Strong.’”
Trustee Kathianne Snaden’s daughter is in Aida’s class and she said it breaks her heart to see the community lose someone so young and so vibrant.
“My heart and prayers are with the Ramonez family,” she said. “If there is any silver lining, it’s seeing the community as a whole come together to support and uplift Aida’s family, and showed we can help each other in a time of need. We are stronger together, and I hope that the outpouring of love that day brought some peace to her family. We are here for them.”
Along with the vigil, a Meal Train was created for the family the day her death was announced, Jan. 6.
Jacobs, who helped create the link, said that within two hours of it being posted, the first four weeks were booked with different types of meals to be dropped off at the Ramonez home. The Meal Train was then extended an extra two weeks, and booked in only one hour.
“People have been reaching out every day asking how they can help,” Jacobs said. “More than 40 gift cards were left on my front porch to be given to the family.”
Lolita said she and her family are overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and knows that Aida would be “flattered beyond belief.”
“Aida was a free spirit who loved the ocean,” she said. “She was not afraid of death or any of life’s phases.”
One of Aida’s favorite songs was “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.” She loved fishing, anime and gymnastics.
“She was an adrenaline junkie,” Lolita said.
Her mother added that Aida’s remains have been cremated and her ashes will be thrown into the ocean in Puerto Rico — one of the places she loved to visit, along with Ecuador.
“She would like her friends and loved ones to remember her with joy, especially when they go to her happy place, the beach,” she said. “She will be with them always in spirit and would love for everyone to stay positive and accomplish their goals.”
Aida is survived by her mother Lolita, father Juan and older brother Grayson, as well as everyone near and far who’s lives she touched.
To continue helping the Ramonez family following this loss, Nicole Jacobs is collecting gift cards to be regularly delivered to them. Community members who would like to send their condolences can email [email protected] for more information.
Famed paleoanthropologist, conservationist and SBU professor Richard Leakey leaves a lasting legacy
By Daniel Dunaief
A revered scientist, conservationist, Kenyan, and faculty member at Stony Brook University, Richard Leakey died on Jan. 2 at the age of 77.
Leakey made several significant human fossil discoveries, wrote books and ground breaking journal articles, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1977, and saved elephants and rhinoceros from poaching.
Leakey, who received honorary degrees from numerous institutions including Stony Brook, was also a professor in SBU’s Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences and the founder of the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.
“I considered him my brother,” said former Stony Brook President Shirley Kenny, who had helped recruit Leakey to join the university and developed a close relationship with him over the course of over two decades. When she learned of his death, she was “devastated.”
The Stony Brook connection
Leakey was visiting Manhattan in 2001 when he met with Kenny and Lawrence Martin, who is the director of the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI). Eager to make a good first impression and “nervous about asking this great, incredible man to come and give a lecture,” Kenny got a manicure before the meal. “He wouldn’t have noticed if I had nails,” she laughed.
When Kenny learned that Leakey was in town to find new leg prosthetics after he lost his legs in a 1993 plane crash, the Stony Brook President asked if he had health insurance, which he didn’t.
“Jewish mother that I am, I said, ‘Richard, you have to have medical insurance.’ We arranged for him to be this faculty member at Stony Brook, who came for a certain amount of time each year to give lectures and work with students, to have students work on his digs,” Kenny recalled.
Leakey, who didn’t graduate from college, was proud of his role at Stony Brook and relished the opportunity to teach, several friends and faculty members recalled. Audiences appreciated the opportunity to hear about the most recent discoveries into human origins, especially from someone with Leakey’s world-renowned reputation.
He was just a“spellbinding public speaker,” said Martin, who first met Leakey when Martin was a graduate student in 1979.
“When [Leakey] got an honorary degree, he had two to three minutes to make an acceptance speech,” Martin said. “There was not a sound from the moment he got up. It’s one of only two occasions when the entire student body rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.” The other was when famed physicist C.N. Yang received an honorary degree.
Leakey was such a draw that he gave some of his bigger talks at the Staller Center for the Arts, which had to accommodate overflow space for the audience demand.
Patricia Wright, Distinguished Service Professor and founder of a research station Centre ValBio at Stony Brook, recalled how a primate conservation class responded to him.
In his provocative style, Leakey would come in and say something “totally outrageous,” she recalled. The students, who might have otherwise been starstruck and been inclined to write everything he said, felt compelled to speak and would respond, saying, “Wait a second, it shouldn’t be like that.” The class would then discuss a conservation issue with Leakey, which opened up an effective dialogue.
“They loved him because he was so charming and was able to turn their minds around,” Wright said. “I loved those classes and watching him with my students.”
In the world of conservation, Leakey took unconventional approaches that proved effective. In 1989, five years after the landmark discovery of Turkana Boy, a 1.5-million-year-old fossil of one of the most complete early human skeletons, Leakey arranged the burning of 12 tons of ivory tusks in Kenya, signaling that they belonged on live animals.
“We can absolutely say that there are elephants and rhinoceros that are alive today that wouldn’t have been alive if it weren’t for Richard Leakey,” Wright said.
Words of wisdom
In addition to leading by example, Leakey dispensed valuable advice, often over food he prepared specially (more about that in the None of the Above column in this issue).
Leakey “left me with a huge gift, the gift of being confident in what I’m doing, as long I’m doing it with principles,” said Sonia Harmand, Associate Professor in Anthropology at Stony Brook. Leakey urged Harmand not to be “scared of breaking boundaries” and trying something nobody else had tried, she said. “Have faith in what you think you want to do. Never be afraid of being judged.”
Harmand made a significant archaeological discovery, for which she received some skeptical comments. Leakey suggested that she consider such questions a point of pride and a reflection of the value of the work.
“You start to have enemies when you start to be famous and important,” Harmand said Leakey told her. It made her think she should be pleased that people were scrutinizing and criticizing her work.
Wright, meanwhile, appreciated how Leakey gave her the strength to live life the way she wanted. He urged her to put in the time and effort to work on politics and networking.
Several people suggested that Leakey, who battled physical challenges throughout his life without complaint, also inspired them. “He really taught me about courage and strength,” Kenny said. “I had the kind of courage that let me take on paths I didn’t know if I could handle. He taught me physical courage.”
Indeed, Leakey displayed the kind of physical courage and belief in his convictions people typically associate with a character from a Tom Clancy novel.
In 1967, Leakey was on a Kenyan flight that had to divert because of a dust storm. Despite earlier reports that the land in the Lake Turkana region was volcanic, Leakey thought he saw sedimentary rock, which could contain fossils. He rented a helicopter and landed with only seven minutes of extra gas to spare for the return trip. When he got out of the helicopter, he found fossils. He quickly appeared at a National Geographic meeting, where he urged the group to fund the search on the east side of Turkana.
The chairman of the society told him “if you don’t find fossils, don’t bother to come back to National Geographic,” Martin said the chairman told Leakey. The findings were more than enough for the group to continue funding Leakey’s research, including on the west side of Lake Turkana, where he discovered Turkana Boy.
For several of those who knew Leakey, the interaction was life-altering.
When he was a high school student in Nairobi, Isaiah Nengo heard a talk Leakey gave about plate tectonics and evolution.
“I was completely blown away,” said Nengo, who is now Associate Director at the Turkana Basin Institute.
As a second-year student at the University of Nairobi, Nengo attended an evolution lecture by Leakey. At that point, he was hooked, deciding to become a paleoanthropologist.
Nengo, whose parents’ education stopped around fourth grade, wrote to Leakey after he graduated from college, not expecting to hear back.
“It goes to tell you what kind of person [Leakey] was,” Nengo said. “This kid from the University of Nairobi out of nowhere writing him a letter, and he wrote back.”
Nengo, who said he heard similar stories from others in Kenya, including some who are currently colleagues at TBI, volunteered for a few months, until he got a fellowship.
He said Leakey helped fund a post-baccalaureate one-year program in the United States.
“The best gift you could get is the gift of knowledge,” Nengo said. “From [Leakey], I got the gift of knowledge, which changed the trajectory of my life.”
Like others who were prepared to change their lives after interacting with Leakey, Harmand had been in a comfortable job at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France when Leakey suggested she join Stony Brook and the Turkana Basin Institute in 2011. “I’m not sure I would have taken” the job, but for Leakey. The work was only supposed to last a couple of years, but she never left.
“He marked my life forever and my career forever,” Harmand said. “We also had a very deep friendship” that extended to the next generation, as her nine-year-old daughter Scarlett has forged a connection with Leakey’s granddaughter Kika, whose mother Samira is the daughter of Richard and Meave Leakey.
With three daughters, including Louise Leakey, who conducts field research at Turkana Basin institute, Leakey was a strong advocate for women.
Women are “equally capable as men and for him, this was not even a question,” Harmand said.
A passion for Kenya
In addition to being pleased with his connection to Stony Brook University, Leakey, who accepted the ceremonial key to a French city in his first language of Swahili, was a proud Kenyan. He set out to employ, train, include and inspire Kenyans in research projects and encouraged the children of staff members to come see the fossils, Martin said.
Leakey also helped raise money from people who traveled to Kenya to support educational fellowships. He contributed to the construction of maternity clinics on either side of Lake Turkana so women could give birth in safe, sterile conditions with electric light, Martin added.
Kenyans recognized Leakey when he traveled and appreciated his contribution to the country.
“We were driving to his farm, when we got stopped,” Martin said. “Everybody knew him and wanted to shake his hand and say hello. He was a local hero who was seen as a Kenyan doing things for his fellow Kenyans,” Martin said.
Harmand recalled one of the last times she spoke with him; he reiterated his passion for his home country.
Leakey made it clear “how important it is to involve Kenyans in what we do,” Harmand said. “We are training the next generation of human origin scientists in Kenya. He is the son of Kenya.”
A passion for science
While Leakey had a genuine interest in a variety of fields, he was, at his core, a scientist. Nengo called him a “polymath” who knew a great deal about a wide range of scientific subjects.
In one of her final conversations with Leakey, Wright said he took her aside after a meal she described as “exquisite” and asked her about bones she’d found in Madagascar.
The conventional wisdom about human origins in the island nation was that humans had come from Borneo 2,000 years ago.
In the middle of Madagascar, however, Wright had found bones from hippos and birds that had cut marks from humans that dated back 10,000 years.
Leakey told her that she “had to find those people,” she recalled. “You will be letting down all of Madagascar if you don’t find their origins.”
Wright said that conversation, which had its intended effect, was “emblematic of his burning desire to know and to learn about hominid history and the burning desire to collect and assemble pieces of history.”
Leakey, who gave so much of himself to so many people, didn’t like receiving gifts, Martin said, but he welcomed receiving cheese, wine or cooking tools, including pots and pans.
When Leakey reached his 70th birthday, Martin asked him what he planned to do to celebrate. He had scheduled a sailing trip, but he wasn’t sure if he could pull together a crew. Martin offered to be a part of his crew for a journey that lasted over a week aboard a 38-foot catamaran.
Leakey’s daughters Samira and Louise joined Martin as deck hands, giving Richard Leakey the opportunity to take the helm during his journey along the coast of Kenya near his home in Lamu.
“When he was steering the boat, it was the only time he wasn’t challenged by his disabilities,” Martin said. “He didn’t need his feet. Driving wasn’t particularly easy. When he was sitting in the catamaran, it didn’t heel; it went fast, and he could steer the boat. Watching him, I had the sense that he felt completely free.”
We thought Betty White would live forever. Long after the other Golden Girls left planet Earth, White, with that mischievous glint in her eyes accompanied by clever quips, was ever present and breaking new ground.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Betty White kept going and we expected her to always be there. White passed away in her sleep on Dec. 31. She was 99.
This month People Magazine had planned a celebration of White’s 100th birthday which was to happen on January 17. We were certain she would make it to centenarian status, but White probably felt it was time to join her husband, Allen Ludden, and all of her animals who had passed before her. She had even said in an interview that when she arrives in Heaven, Ludden would have to stand in line while she reunited with her much loved pets.
Born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White was the only child of Horace Logan White and Christine Tess. The family moved to Alhambra, California in 1923 and later to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. White graduated from Beverly Hill High School in 1939. As a child, she wanted to be an opera singer and took voice lessons. After graduating from high school, due to her love of animals, she aspired to be a forest ranger, but that path was not open to women in the early 1940s. Instead, she discovered acting and the rest is history.
In the 1940s, she went on to land roles in the first two plays she auditioned for, Spring Dance and Dear Ruth, before performing on radio in The Great Gildersleeve, Blondie, This Is Your FBI and became the sidekick to popular local DJ, Al Jarvis, on his daily radio show Make Believe Ballroom. White’s television career took off when that radio show moved to television under the title Hollywood on Television. Next came Life with Elizabeth for two seasons from 1953 to 1955 followed by The Betty White Show on NBC in 1954.
White went on to become the first lady of game shows in the 60s, appearing on Password, What’s My Line?, Match Game and Pyramid. She met her third husband, Allen Ludden, on Password and has been quoted as saying he was “the love of my life.” They were married from 1963 until 1981 whenLudden died following a battle with stomach cancer. It is poignant to note White’s assistant told longtime friend and fellow colleague, Vicki Lawrence, that the last word White uttered was “Allen.”
She was a staple of late night talk shows with decades long appearances on The Tonight Show.
In 1973, White appeared as the “man-hungry” Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the role became a favorite winning White the Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1975 and again in 1976.
The Golden Girls launched in 1985 through 1992 and White won the Emmy in 1986 for her role as the ditzy but good-hearted Rose Nylund. It is interesting to note that White was first offered the role of Blanche but director Jay Sandrich felt that character was too close to the role of Nivens, so he decided that White should play Rose instead.
White was celebrated with more awards in 1995 when she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and in 1996 she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for The John Larroquette Show.
2010 was big for Betty White. It started on Jan. 23 with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, White appeared in a Snickers commercial that skyrocketed in popularity. After a successful fan campaign on Facebook, White hosted Saturday Night Live‘s Mother’s Day episode at 88 ½ years of age, becoming the oldest person to host SNL.
At the start of her monologue White marveled, “I can’t believe I’m hosting Saturday Night Live! I’m 88 ½ years old, so it’s great to be here for a number of reasons.” She went on to thank Facebook for the campaign that brought her to the show then wisecracked, “I didn’t know what Facebook was and now that I know, it sounds like a huge waste of time.”
Musical guest Jay-Z dedicated his performance of “Forever Young” to “the most incredible Betty White.” After her death, Seth Myers tweeted “The only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed ’til the bitter end.” That hosting gig was awarded on August 21, 2010, with a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her guest host spot.
On January 1, 2022, as a special tribute, SNL re-aired her hosting episode. White went on to the role of Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015). She was in her 90s by the time that series ended.
In 2012, White won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t). She was recognized by the Guinness World Records for longest TV career for a female entertainer. (74 years)
In 2015 White won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards and in 2018 she was honored at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards for her more than 80 years in show business.
White enjoyed a highly accomplished and celebrated career, but her passion was animals. She has said that they have made a huge difference in her life. She was devoted to animal welfare and supported numerous animal-related nonprofits throughout her career, from donations and volunteering to fundraising and recording public service announcements.
A documentary paying tribute to Betty White’s life and career will be screened at select theaters nationwide on Jan. 17 which would have marked her centennial birthday.
Titled Betty White: A Celebration, the film will feature White’s final interview and a behind-the-scenes look at some of her most iconic sitcom roles. It also includes interviews with dozens of celebrity friends.
Rest In Peace dear Betty White. Thank you for all the laughs and for being there for us. You are a national treasure. This crazy world shone brighter with you in it and you are truly missed.
Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”
“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together … there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think but the most important thing is, even if we’re apart … I’ll always be with you.” — Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (from the 1997 Disney film “Pooh’s Grand Adventure”)
I first met Al Meyer when he and his family were living on Main Street in Setauket, just opposite Celia Hawkins’ red barn. It was probably about 1959 when we were both serving in the U.S. Navy as quartermasters and I was home on leave and living with my parents farther north on Main Street. Al served four years on a number of U.S. Navy destroyers where he was also a qualified signalman.
We met again after we both joined the Old Field Point Power Squadron, a safe boating organization, where we spent many years together teaching courses from boat handling to celestial navigation and serving in various capacities where we did many projects together. It was the beginning of a long friendship that eventually included our wives and families. Barbara and I were married in 1962, and Al married Bonnie Robertson in 1966, the same year our first daughter Jennifer was born. Each of our families had two daughters and over the years we boated together with Two Sisters and Mischief — the names of our boats. The girls had good times together on our boats, and in later years we visited their homes and at Al and Bonnie’s for many get-togethers and special occasions.
Al worked mostly at Macy’s and A&S department stores ending up as manager of Macy’s Furniture Clearance Center near Roosevelt Field before retiring in 1997. He had a break for almost a decade in the 1970s when he started his own marine supply company, The Suffolk Boat Locker, along Route 25 in Centereach. This was perfect for me. Al’s store was on my way home from Long Island MacArthur Airport, and I would stop there whenever I could, even finishing two desks for my daughters for one Christmas. I think it actually took me more than a year working in the basement of Al’s store. Being there also gave us more time to talk about family, boating vacations and the local community.
Sometimes, probably too often, I would say, “We should [do this or that]” and Al would come back with, “We — do you have a mouse in your pocket?” It became a phrase Al used a lot, but we actually did many “mouse” projects together over the years with the Old Field Point Power Squadron, Three Village Historical Society, Caroline Episcopal Church and Frank Melville Memorial Park Foundation. Al was the quiet, insightful one. I was the loud “let’s jump into it” one. I guess we were a good combination, at least from my perspective. He was excellent with financial matters and served as treasurer from time to time in all four organizations. Al was the organized one, and he kept me in line with many discussions that prevented me, most of the time, from jumping in with both feet before finding out if it was a good idea. I do remember many evenings together in my cellar running off multiple-page newsletters, photos and cards over the years on my rotary press.
Al was very much at home on the water but didn’t like heights. I wanted to show Al some of the Island from the air, especially the inlets, harbor entrances where we boated and some of the shoal areas we discussed in boating classes. We took a Cessna 150 out of MacArthur Airport, and by the time we landed, Al was gripping the bar on the dash so hard his knuckles were white. I realized then that friends do things together that might be uncomfortable for one or another. Thanks, Al!
In 2000, Al, Bonnie, Barbara and I joined a few other friends on a two-week bus tour of Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, ending with the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play. In Switzerland, the entire bus group took a tour up a mountain in a cog railway car. As we traveled up, Al was telling jokes and making the funniest and loudest comments I can ever remember about him. He was usually pretty quiet. He had the whole car in stitches laughing by the time we got to the top. It was Al’s way of getting through the ride with thousand-foot drops on each side all along the route. The area around the ski lodge at the top was beautiful, and we could see cows and hear cowbells echoing off the hills for miles around.
About 2011, Al and Bonnie decided to move near Wilmington, North Carolina, where their daughter Tracy and grandson Griffin live. We missed the parents a lot but were able to get together at their home a number of times and have them stay with us when they came north to see us and the many other friends they have on Long Island. We also stayed in touch by phone and email. Al and I also exchanged many messages about sailing and especially about the America’s Cup competitions which we both followed.
Rest in peace good friend — Albert Henry Meyer. God bless you!
Beverly C. Tyler is a Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730. or visit www.tvhs.org.
Al Meyer passed away suddenly, at age 82. He was a wonderful, caring husband and father.
Born in 1939 in Mineola, Al grew up in Rockville Centre and Stony Brook. He attended Stony Brook Boys School and stayed one year at Hobart before enlisting in the Navy for four years. He served on several destroyers, known as the “greyhounds” of the fleet. Al’s chosen field was navigation, having attained the grade of Quartermaster 2 prior to his honorable discharge from the military. He also served on the USS William V. Pratt.
In 1963, Al went to work with RH Macy, where he started first as a salesman. He moved up into the upper-management training program and held positions in both the flagship store in Manhattan and in branch stores. Al left the company after nine years to form his own marine supply company, The Suffolk Boat Locker in Centereach.
Realizing that self-employment was not for him, Al returned to department store management, starting with A&S in 1981, where he remained until their parent company bought Macy’s. He was also store manager of the Furniture Clearance Center when he took to early retirement in 1997.
Al was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, was active in the United States Power Squadrons for 31 years, belonged to the Three Village Historical Society and acted as treasurer of the Franklin Melville Memorial Foundation, a 25-acre private park and sanctuary.
A member of the Caroline Episcopal Church in Setauket, Al served as Lay Eucharistic Minister, Brotherhood of St. Andrew director, church warden, and received the Bishop’s Medal for Distinguished Service in the Diocese of Long Island. After relocating to Leland, North Carolina, in 2011, Al served as Verger at St. John’s Episcopal Church and was also a volunteer at the Bellamy Mansion.
Al is survived by his wife of 55 years, Bonnie Meyer; his two daughters Tracy Meyer and Jessica Booth (Brett); grandchildren Griffin Meyer, Amelia, Jackson, Olivia Booth and Alex Gailor,; his brothers Walter Meyer and John Hershey (Jeri); and his nephews Sean and Kevin. Al is predeceased by both his parents Walter and Sylvia Meyer.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 11 a.m. at The Church of the Good Shepherd, located at 515 Queen Street, Wilmington, North Carolina.
Elio Zappulla, a long-time Stony Brook resident and dedicated educator, passed away peacefully on Nov. 5, 2021, at the age of 88, due to complications from thymoma.
In 1933, Elio was born in Brooklyn to parents of Italian descent: Giuseppe Zappulla, a radio broadcaster and published poet — originally a stonemason in Sicily — and Rita Fera, a clerk, amateur pianist and swimmer. Upon graduating from Brooklyn’s Midwood High School in 1950, Elio went on to Brooklyn College, where he studied languages and developed his love for teaching. Elio proceeded to teach in Brooklyn by day while pursuing a doctorate in French Literature at Columbia University by night.
Though New York City remained in his heart, Elio relocated to the Three Village area in the 1960s to raise his family. Over the ensuing 60-year period, he encouraged and educated thousands of students at both the primary- and secondary-school levels across Suffolk County. Connecting with young people through his characteristic humor, respect and curiosity, Elio sought to draw the uninterested to the joys of learning, and to challenge his students to lofty goals.
Elio’s love of history, the arts and culture was evident whether working as a foreign-language teacher in the Three Village school district, a teacher/administrator in Huntington or a professor at Dowling College. Outside the classroom, Professor Zappulla acted in, directed and later wrote reviews for local theater productions. Additionally, his polyglot status and voracious appetite for reading made Elio a daily regular at Setauket’s Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, among other bibliophile haunts.
Like his father Giuseppe, Elio was a poet. His magnum opus was a verse translation of Dante’s “Inferno” in 1998. This acclaimed rendition, published by Random House, maintained in English the same rhythmic meter as the original ancient Italian work. Elio worked on this translation as a passion project while teaching full time at Dowling.
Having grown up in racially and culturally diverse parts of Brooklyn, Elio henceforth devoted himself to issues of human justice and equity in American society. He contributed dozens of cogent opinion pieces — infused with his signature wit — to local papers over the years, including Times Beacon Record Newspapers, typically focused on politics and the plight of minorities in America. He aimed to inspire others to also boldly speak up for righteous causes with his actions and teaching.
Elio is survived by Lynette Zappulla, his beloved wife of 53 years, and their two children David Zappulla, of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and Eve Anderson, of Los Angeles; and his four young grandchildren. Elio’s first son, Robert Zappulla, lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and his elder daughter, Laura Zappulla, predeceased him in 2010.
A private memorial service, due to COVID-19, was held for Elio at Setauket Presbyterian Church on Dec. 22. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union and/or the church.
Bernard Paley’s obituary originally appeared in the Jan. 6, 2022, editions of The Smithtown News and The Observer in Northport. It is republished with permission from The Smithtown News.
Bernard “Bernie” Paley, 92, the long-time publisher of The Smithtown News died after a brief illness Jan. 1 at the home he loved and lived in for over 60 years.
During his 66-year award-winning journalism career, Paley was entrenched in the community, active in many service organizations and once a candidate for public office.
“Bernie was an extraordinary man,” said David Ambro, editor of The Smithtown News and The Observer and also Paley’s son-in-law. “His approach to local journalism was always to promote a sense of community, which is what he loved most about Smithtown.”
“His passion was the newsroom,” Ambro said. “He was a fair, concise news reporter and a smart, studious, and forward-thinking editorial and column writer. Outside of the office he was a kind and caring family man, a loving husband, who delighted in spending time with his children and grandchildren. We loved him dearly and he will be sorely missed.”
A hard worker throughout his life, he also made sure to make time outside the office ‘working hard’ at the things he loved. An avid skier who spent winters in Vermont and was still on the slopes at age 86, Paley enjoyed playing golf, his weekly tennis games, spending summers on Fire Island and traveling the world.
One of Paley’s notable attributes, to which his friends and family can attest, was his love of telling stories, but “his greatest attribute was his personal contact with people,” Ambro said. His subject matters ranged from his days playing hooky from school to playing basketball on the streets of New York City. He would recount stories from the trenches of local politics, his travels, including a month-long trip to communist Russia, and Smithtown Rotary Club lore.
“He had a vast institutional knowledge of Smithtown government and politics that spanned more than half a century and he loved sharing those stories. He could be funny at times, serious at others, and what was remarkable was his ability to remember the names of the characters involved, some dating back to the 1950s. I could listen to him for hours,” Ambro said.
Paley was the last remaining charter member of the Rotary Club of Smithtown, an organization that was such an important part of his life. A past president of the club, many life-long friends were made through his involvement in Rotary and he still looked forward to attending weekly club meetings.
Nissequogue Village Mayor Richard Smith was a longtime friend of Paley. They first met on the Smithtown campaign trail when Smith’s father was involved in Democratic Party politics in the 1960s and Paley was a local journalist covering local campaigns. They solidified their relationship in 2006 when Smith joined the Smithtown Rotary Club, now serving as its president.
“He was highly intelligent, kind, and with a very sharp sense of humor,” Smith said about Paley. “The thing that always impressed me about Bernie though, was that as successful as he was and as smart as he was, he was just a very humble guy. I think that’s what people found most attractive about him. He never put on airs. He just was the most decent person and friendly to all. He was just a very kind man.”
After learning about Paley’s death, Smith said he spoke with many Rotary Club members about him and he will be deeply missed. “He was an imminently likable guy and he had that very rare combination — very intelligent and humorous, but very humble. We are all poorer today because he is gone,” Smith concluded.
Another Smithtown Rotarian and dear friend, Glenn Williams, said he first met Paley as a young man when his father, Bud Williams, and Paley played tennis together. He recalled sitting at the bar at Old Street Pub in Smithtown one afternoon when Paley, who ate lunch there almost every workday, came into the restaurant. Williams invited Paley to join him for lunch but he didn’t like sitting at the bar to eat. Instead, Paley preferred the backroom of the restaurant where he always ate at the same four-top table.
They became fast friends and Williams said that table at Old Street Pub was frequented by local officials, business people and area folks who would share stories with Paley over lunch.
“Guys would come in there and chew the fat for an hour or two, and sometimes he and I would stay way too long,” Williams said. “His friendship always meant so much to me. He was a great guy and he was a mentor to me in a few ways about life.”
“I loved the stories he would share and he was a great listener. His sense of humor, of course, was unsurpassed. It is a big loss for me and I am going to really miss him,” Williams said. “I loved him and I really valued him. Everybody I talk to agrees it is such a big loss.”
Paley was a past president of the Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) and personally guaranteed financing for the arts organization to ensure it would continue to serve the community when it was on the brink of closing down. Paley also served as a member of the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in the 1960s, was active in the New York Press Association where he served as president for two terms, and was appointed a member of the New York State Judicial Nominating Committee by Gov. Hugh Carey. Paley also served on the New York State Free Press Trial Committee for many years.
In 1969, Paley was the Democratic candidate for Smithtown Town Supervisor. He ran against Republican candidate Paul Fitzpatrick for a seat left open when Smithtown Supervisor John V.N. Klein was elected county executive. Although Paley was endorsed by a dissident faction of Republicans from Kings Park who were upset with the ‘bossism’ in the Smithtown GOP, Fitzpatrick won in a year when Republicans swept town races in Smithtown. A testament to his strong ethical character, Paley invited Fitzpatrick to write his own endorsement, which he ran side by side along his own.
Perhaps ahead of his time, one of the key campaign issues on Paley’s platform was to update the town’s comprehensive master plan, which had not been done in more than a decade since first enacted in 1957. More than half a century later, the town is just nearing completion of a master plan update.
Paley was born on Nov. 23, 1929, in the Bronx to Max and Anna Paley. He grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, and was a graduate of Brooklyn College. There, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and more significantly met his wife, Suzanne, who he married in 1951. Mr. and Mrs. Paley headed to the suburbs where they purchased their first home in Kings Park.
While his wife had secured a teaching position in the Kings Park School District, Paley’s love of sports led him to the two local newspapers in town, The Smithtown News and The Smithtown Messenger, where he hoped perhaps he could get a job as a sports reporter. The Smithtown News publisher Robert James Malone, who had just finished up his term as Smithtown Supervisor, hired him on the spot (The Smithtown Messenger offered him a position the next day.) In 1955, Paley became the managing editor of The Smithtown News and vice president of The North Shore News Group with The Smithtown News as its flagship publication. In the 1970s, Paley purchased The Observer newspaper in Northport and in 1990 the newspaper chain began publishing The Huntington News under Paley’s leadership.
In his early days at The News, Paley worked as a general assignment reporter writing about politics, crime, human interest and feature stories in Smithtown and Suffolk County. And he had a passion for high school sports, even managing to find time to cover a big game or sporting event. In 1964 he was named Outstanding Young Editor of the Year by the International Society of Weekly Newspapers headquartered in Ireland and Illinois.
“My dad lived such a wonderful life,” said daughter Jennifer Paley Ambro. “In addition to running award-winning newspapers for decades, he and my mom made sure to create wonderful memories for our entire family … whether it was in Vermont, camping in Montauk, or traveling across country in a camper, he knew how to make the most of life. He never missed a beat. It was his dedication to this community that drew me back to Smithtown to join him in running the newspapers. His stories of sitting around the round table in the back of Howard Johnson’s having lunch with local politicians and business people, early morning breakfasts at Florence’s Hilltop Diner with local law enforcement, to always running into someone he knew at Old Street Pub, instilled in me the importance of local journalism and its critical role in a community.”
At 92, Paley would still come into the office just about every day.
“He’d come in with an egg sandwich, coffee, and his newspapers and we would sit and talk about anything and everything. He was just a wonderful dad who gave us a wonderful life and I will miss having him by my side,” Jennifer Paley Ambro said.
Daughter Elizabeth Paley echoed similar sentiments about her father. “I have so many happy memories of my dad. He taught me how to skim a rock at Short Beach, chaperoned Smithtown Elementary field trips when I was little, and gave my high school friends part-time jobs inserting newspapers so we could all work together at The News,” Paley said. “Later in life, after my mom died, he and I would take monthly day trips to Robert Moses and Captree State Park, even in the middle of winter and he was over 90 years old. He always had an adventurous spirit! Most importantly though, my dad taught me to find purpose in serving others, and that family is everything.”
Paley also relished his role as a grandfather.
“My grandfather lived his life to the fullest,” said granddaughter Anna Jewell of Concord, Massachusetts. “Whether it was traveling to Vermont, Fire Island, or to Massachusetts for my high school grandparent’s days, he always made sure to spend his time doing the things he loved with the people he loved. But regardless of all his experiences, when I asked him recently what his favorite trip was, he didn’t hesitate to say his honeymoon.”
The Paleys moved to their home in Smithtown with their daughters in 1966 where Paley lived until his death. He was predeceased by his devoted wife, Suzanne, who died in 2016. Paley is survived by his daughter Elizabeth Paley and her daughters Lily and Anna Jewell; daughter Jennifer Paley Ambro and husband David Ambro, and their children Brady and Sophie Ambro; granddaughter Morgan Ambro and great-grandson Joshua Simmons.
Donations in memory of Bernard Paley can be made to the Rotary Club of Smithtown Charitable Fund, P.O. Box 501, Smithtown, New York, 11787. The family will also be setting up two yearly scholarships in Paley’s memory through the Rotary Club of Smithtown and the New York Press Association. A celebration of Paley’s life will be held at a future date.