George Francis Rice, Jr., Esq., a resident of Setauket for more than 40 years, passed away peacefully on Oct. 15 at the age of 75.
The son of the late George F. Rice, Sr. and Catherine M. Rice, George was preceded in death by his brother Thomas. He is survived by his loving wife, Pam, along with three daughters and their husbands – Erin and Craig Keanna of Guilford, CT; Kara and Jamie Proctor of Huntington, NY; and Darby and Dave Mingey of Pelham, NY. George was also a grandfather to eight grandchildren: Ainsley, Campbell, Caroline, Claire, Dylan, Peter, Theo and Will — all of whom affectionately referred to him as “Poppe.” Additionally, he is survived by his brother Bill Rice of Cambria, CA, and his sister, Joan Rice Cuomo, of Huntington, NY.
Born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, George later moved as a young boy with his family to Long Island. He was raised in the hamlet of Central Islip and attended bygone Seton Hall High School before venturing upstate to study at Niagara University. After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from Niagara in 1966, he went on to earn his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1969.
Immediately upon graduation from Notre Dame’s Law School, George began serving as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow in New York’s Westchester County. Those selected for this prestigious national fellowship are considered to be among the nation’s brightest recent law school graduates. After specific training in poverty law, these attorneys commit themselves to a year of social service by representing disadvantaged clients in communities across the nation who are in need of significant legal assistance.
Following his fellowship George was promptly offered the opportunity to join the Long Island-based law firm of Bennett, Kaye, Scholly in 1970. While continuing his focus on social impact law and counsel to underrepresented clients, he rapidly rose within the firm to be named a partner by his third year. George was soon recognized as an expert in trial law, real estate law and not-for-profit corporation law. As their legal team continued to grow and evolve, he helped craft a merger with another leading Long Island firm to form what would become Spellman, Rice, Schure & Polizzi. Out of their new Garden City office George continued his impressive legal career – one that would eventually span nearly five decades. Of particular note was George’s strategic counsel to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rockville Center. Because of his success on behalf this highly influential organization the Archdiocese soon requested George to serve as its Diocesan Attorney. Along with earning numerous industry awards, recognitions and distinctions, he was a frequent guest speaker and panelist at law conferences and seminars throughout the United States.
On a personal level, George was an ardent believer in the service-to-others tenets of the Catholic Faith. Central to his beliefs and character was a deep dedication to creating positive social impact. This was vividly demonstrated by a lifetime focused on improving the lives of those in the communities where he resided and worked. Many of his peers marveled that, in addition to his impressive professional endeavors, he had a seemingly endless capacity to lead civic, philanthropic and community initiatives.
While the totality of his decades of social service was expansive, he is especially remembered for several leadership positions that significantly enriched the lives of others. George was the Founding Chair and a longtime board member of the Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which grew to operate one of the region’s finest and largest health and human services agencies. A dedicated Trustee of the St. Charles Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, George also served as that healthcare facility’s Chairman of the Board from 2003 to 2006. Additionally, he was instrumental in launching Jefferson’s Ferry, Long Island’s first active lifestyle all-inclusive retirement community and served as their Chairman of the Board from 1997-2019.
Although his career and community service were very impressive, George was best known to those close to him for the heartwarming love he had for his extended family and cherished friends. He was an eternally proud and passionate supporter of his three daughters throughout every phase of their lives. For 53 years George devoted himself to his wife and nurturing the beautiful bond that gave each of them a special companionship that was beyond description. And perhaps his life’s most treasured role came during his later years as he relished the pure joy of being “Poppe” to his grandkids.
With the spirit of his Irish ancestry rooted deeply in his soul, George was an incredibly charming man who made friends far and wide. He traveled extensively throughout the country, often with his Pam by his side, for both professional purposes and personal enjoyment. Of all the places he traveled, no place made him happier than a sun-filled spot by the water’s edge. Among his favorite beach destinations were the shores of Fire Island, the picture-perfect seaside village of Ogunquit, located along Maine’s southern coast, and especially the beach cabanas of Setauket’s Old Field Club, a historic beach club tucked along the Long Island Sound where he was a longtime member.
George was a dynamic man of great talent with an immense capacity to care for others. He was goodness, kindness, wisdom and wit rolled into the form of everybody’s ideal All-American neighbor. He was a true gentleman and wore the warmest smile of anyone along the avenue. The legacy George left here with us will remain enduring and impactful for many years to come. His days on this earth not only blessed those who knew him well, but they will continue to benefit so many who will never know his name. No doubt, George is the latest shining star in the Heavens above.
In recognition of the public health challenges that currently face our nation, George respectfully asked that no public services be held in his memory until safer times arrive. The Rice Family intends to hold a special memorial to honor George at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the Rice family kindly asks that donations be made in his memory to The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the University of Notre Dame scholarship fund, Save-A-Pet USA, or to any community impact program that you feel would especially honor him.