Raymond J. Janis Jr.: The beating heart of the North Fork
Prepared by Raymond Janis IV
Raymond “Ray” Joseph Janis Jr., of South Jamesport, was a consummate fighter all his life.
His fight began on the football field, where he and his brother helped secure a Suffolk County championship in 1953. He was willing to fight for his country and community, first serving in the U.S. Army Reserves and then volunteering in the Jamesport Fire Department. Later in life, he fought long and hard against heart disease.
Now his fight is over and, for once, he rests easy. Ray died peacefully surrounded by family at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead on Sunday, Feb. 12. He was 88.
Boys from the North Fork
Ray was born on Jan. 23, 1935, with his identical twin, Jerry, at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. They were the first pair of twins delivered by cesarean in the hospital’s history, their lives etched into local history from the very outset.
Until Jerry’s death in 2012, the twins were inseparable. The farm boys of the North Fork walked to and from school together, tended farm animals together, played sports together and spent the bulk of their lives in each other’s company.
Ray and Jerry both attended Riverhead High School, where they won the famed 1953 county title against Amityville. Also a fierce badminton duo, the pair won the county championship in doubles.
After graduating high school, they both took up carpentry. Renowned artisans, Ray and Jerry opened and co-owned the Twin Builders company, constructing homes along the East End and throughout Suffolk County. The structures they built were meant to last, standing as living relics of their ingenuity and skill, their dynamic collaboration and the special love the two had shared.
Delivering eggs from his family’s farm, Ray met his other partner in life, Rowena Ambrose. Both shy, it took some convincing from Rowena’s matchmaker aunt, Julia, before the two went out on their first date.
Ray escorted Rowena to a Southampton beauty contest, where the two discovered magnetic chemistry on the dance floor. A floodlight beaming down upon them, they formed an unbroken bond that would span nearly seven decades. They married in 1958 and raised two sons, Raymond III “Randy” and Darrell.
“A fireman’s son”
As the twin builders went to work building up their community, Ray also went to work protecting it. He joined the Jamesport Fire Department in 1966 and was an active member for the rest of his life.
Ray held the rank of fire chief in the years 1983-85, serving alongside his brother-in-law Ray Diem, and celebrated 50 years with the department in 2016.
In reaching this milestone, the New York State Senate commemorated his local contribution with a legislative resolution.
“Throughout 50 years of devoted service, this volunteer heroically performed, above and beyond the call of duty, those responsibilities which define the task of fire protection,” the resolution said.
But his duties at the firehouse never disrupted Ray’s responsibilities to his family. He was completely devoted to his wife, supporting Rowena through his declining health. He was a kind, loving father and role model to Randy and Darrell.
On his office wall lies the poem, “A Fireman’s Son,” a visible reminder of the ideals he nourished in his two boys. It reads, “My dad’s a fireman, and proud am I, indeed. For he is someone special, whose wisdom I still need.”
Ray stayed present in his sons’ lives, coaching Little League and youth basketball teams, teaching them to shuck clams and constantly pointing them down a proper course. Randy and Darrell’s characters, generous and warm, are a testament to their upbringing under Ray’s instruction.
When Randy and Darrell started their own families, they carried Ray and Rowena’s values forward for the next generation. Their children revered their grandfather, affectionately known to them as “Grandpa” (even “G-pa”).
Some of their fondest memories are those spent with Grandpa — summer carnivals sponsored by the fire department, Christmas parties at the firehouse and backyard Sunday dinners.
To know Ray is to know his heart — not merely the physical complications that ailed him later in life but also the love, kindness and strength contained within it.
For decades, he battled through frequent strains on his heart. Keeping him alive were innumerable pills, myriad doctor visits and overnight hospital stays and nearly a half-dozen major cardiac procedures.
Yet, in the face of these hurdles, the fire burning within him to keep living could not be extinguished. In his final two years, his health was largely sustained by the contributions of his sister-in-law, Lucille, whose tireless dedication and tender care helped extend his life. The time tacked on through her efforts is immeasurable and priceless.
During his life, Ray gave much of himself to the people he loved, the causes he backed and the values he upheld. He was the ultimate gentleman, always putting the needs of others before his own, never speaking ill of someone else. The good feelings were mutual, earning him the love of his family and the respect of his community.
Ray reminds us to love unconditionally, to serve others and to never squander the precious moments we have here on Earth. He approached his days with abundant energy, vigor and optimism. He savored every second he had.
For Ray, being alive was a thrill in itself. He embraced life in all its multiplicity, accepting the trials and triumphs as they came in turn. Through it all, his heart was the last of his organs to finally give out — a full heart that kept beating to the very end.
Ray is survived by his wife, Rowena; his sons Randy (Theresa) and Darrell (Bernadette); his grandchildren, Ally, Megan, Alec, Raymond IV and Claire; and his large extended family.
The wake will take place Friday, Feb. 17, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck. His fireman’s funeral procession will leave DeFriest-Grattan Saturday, Feb. 18, at 10 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. funeral Mass at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead.
Donations in Ray’s honor can be sent to the Jamesport Fire Department.