Remembering My Dad, Gene Cosgriff

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Gene was the youngest of 5 kids. born during the Great Depression. He was born in the Bronx, grew up in Brooklyn, worked in Manhattan and made Staten Island his home with his wife Edwina and their 14 children [9 boys and 5 girls]

He was a talented artist as well as a singer. His talents were passed down to his children. Some became artists, others singers, others musicians, some a little of both. It didn’t end there. His grandchildren also displayed his talents in both art and music, as well as being civic minded too..

From the early 60s to early 70’s, Gene took his family up to Maine every summer to vacation for a few weeks. Other relatives would join them up there at Sebago Lake.When not vacationing in Maine, he would take the family on weekend outings upstate NY or to NJ or Pa. He was all about family and spending quality time with them.

In the late 60s to early 70s Gene & his wife proudly won the “Largest Family Award” at the annual Staten Island Family Day Picnics held at Wolf’s Pond Park on Staten Island.

In 1968 after his 85 year old father had been mugged on his way home from work, he later passed away at home and Gene buried his father and moved his mother to his sister’s home in Brooklyn, where he’d bring the kids to visit her until her death in late 1973.

In 1969 while doing their usual Christmas shopping [ which began in the summer and concluded Christmas eve, with so many to buy for, including all the relatives! Gene and Edwina came home the Saturday before Christmas, to find that the family home had been gutted by a fire and then took 9 months to rebuild. None of the kids were hurt,  which was another great blessing from God, that he was grateful for, never blaming anyone, but glad the older ones got all the younger ones out safely.

He was a very civic minded man and he and his wife Edwina created a group in the early 70’s called Bring Legal Action to Stop Tanks [B.L.A.S.T] after an LNG tank explosion rocked the island and killed the 47 workers within, who had just begun repairs on the experimental tank after it had been emptied for 11 months. Even so, the residue was enough to set of such a huge explosion, it only demonstrated how volatile and unpredictable LNG {Liquefied Natural Gas} could be and that it had no place in populated areas.They continued their fight along with many other volunteers and later defeated the owners of the LNG plant and its subsequent owners proving that you can fight city hall !

His civic duties didn’t end there. Both he and his wife and some of their children went on to become pillars of the Right to Life movement in NYC and continued that fight into their later years. After retiring from the movement, they continued their letter writing to the newspapers and were often called upon for advice from many people. When Gene became more home bound, he continued working online with different prayer groups and provided research and advice to organizations he belonged to.

His children also were civic minded. Several served in the Armed Forces~ Two in the  US Marines, 1 in the US Army, as well as others went on to become NYPD & NYFD. One of his daughters had also been in the NYPD and another was married to a military man who served both in the Air Force and the US Navy. One of his sons became a Fire Chief in Keansburg and also became its Mayor. Some of his grandchildren also entered into the Military , 4 in the US Army 2 served both in Korea and in Iraq. Another served in the US Navy. One is now serving in the NYPD. Two granddaughters are married to US Marines, 1 who served in Iraq twice.

His youngest son, after just graduating the NYPD was assigned to the World Trade Center and along with his partner, were the first responders at the 1993 WTC explosion and braved 14 flights of smoke filled stairs several times, to lead out victims to safety while regardless of his own safety and later was treated for smoke inhalation. A Newsweek photographer captured a picture of him as he and his partner shouldered and aided one woman in particular, out from the building and all the smoke.That picture was later used for the Cops Care Campaign in the mid 90s to show the world that Cops Do Care ~!

One of his daughters while attending a women’s shelter in Philadelphia was there when an electrical  fire broke out in one of the staircases of the 3 story building.After safely removing her own children from the building she ran back in and grabbed 2 fire extinguishers and had the fire out by the time the firemen arrived, suffering smoke inhalation and went to an area hospital. Asked why she did it, she replied that she knew some parents often left their children, especially babies sleeping in their locked rooms upstairs, so she felt compelled to try and bring the fire under control til help arrived. As it turned out one eight month old was upstairs sleeping and the frantic mother had been down in the kitchen and was ushered out in the rush and prevented from going back for her baby. The fire men and the mother told Cosgriff’s daughter, that with her quick actions, she saved that baby’s life as the acrid smoke from the fire surely would have placed the baby in peril before help arrived. This again, is just typical behavior for a Cosgriff, when an emergency arises, they take action.

When 911 happened, all of Gene’s children and grandchildren were spared, as some who had worked at the WTC,  before and during both attacks, due to God’s timing, grace and mercy. His sons, including a retired policeman and his brothers who were still in the Police and Fire Departments at the time, all  worked tirelessly alongside others  digging through the rubble where fellow responders had been trapped while trying to save  civilians and were buried beneath that rubble together when the buildings collapsed.  2001 was a year of many sorrows for all involved, with endless funerals and memorials to attend and families to comfort and look after..

Meanwhile, after Gene retired from the NYFD,  he continued to also keep up with his music, being able to sing like Elvis, Bing, Frank and other old time favorites, Gene performed in many nightclubs on Staten Island and surrounding areas, at many weddings and other parties for friends and family. He was also the master of corn and could tell limitless jokes, always clean, mostly corny, but ones that would always command a laugh from his audience.

Both he and his wife and family enjoyed camping and used to take road trips as often as they could til they were in the mid 70s. They especially liked square dancing and did so for decades after their own children became adults.

During his retirement years,  Gene continued entertaining on occasion, but never missed giving a New Year’s Eve performance at some local nursing homes where he’d say he knew he would have a ‘captive audience’ and that they would always join in and sing along and would always laugh at his jokes, as if it was the first time they heard them – perhaps for the ones who had dementia, they may have thought it was the first time they heard them.

In Jan 2015 at age 85 Gene became  ill  with pneumonia and was hospitalized. Unfortunately he developed several secondary infections that led to his extended stay and that eventually wore him down and after 94 days in the hospital, he passed away on April 30, 2015,  5 months short of his 66 wedding anniversary. While he was in the hospital, his children took turns – around the clock -to always have someone there at the hospital with him at all times, til he passed away. Others stayed with their mother to help her stay strong during those difficult months.Some flew in or drove in from out of state and stayed as long as they could to help give a bit of rest to those who were there every day at their father’s bedside.

The funeral was fit for an important head of state, one that he would have been proud of. Hundreds of people from all walks of life and organizations came to pay their last respects and the church was packed. The funeral procession was long and many attended his burial. Then again, as Gene would have said, it was packed just with his own clan of a family, to which its hard to keep a head count, as each of his kids have kids who have kids and new ones are being born frequently, that even family members can’t keep track.

Though many aren’t blessed to live so long, most who knew Gene felt he still died too soon, as he had always rebounded from previous illnesses and his family never felt prepared to see him part from them like he did. His wife still sits at home in front of the TV watching the same shows they watched together and quietly laments his passing and bides her own time. Their children and grand children and great grandchildren stop by from time to time to encourage her, but its still hard for all of them to believe he is really gone.

For me, I moved away in 1985, so my connection to Gene was mostly through the internet and on the phone. Like his friends at the nursing homes, I never tired of his songs or jokes. My only regret, or rather one of my regrets, is that I didn’t get to spend more time with him or collect more recordings of his music, than I have access to. The songs above are some of them, he recorded on Soundcloud.

He also was the glue that held the family together and with his passing, the family has also gone their separate ways, with groups nearby that stand vigil over [my] mother seeing to her every need. Still, though, those 94 days he spent in the hospital, took its terrible toll on everyone involved. It never should have ended the way it did, but it did and there is nothing anyone can do about it now, except try to remember all the good times that were shared and continue to put forth the type of effort he did while he was alive, to always put family first and always try to be there for one another…

We all need to  remind ourselves and each other, to cherish those times we did have with him and if necessary, to forgive one another, as he would have wanted us all to do and to continue to strengthen the bonds he bred into us and continue to grow as a family both in love and loyalty, so that his legacy will last from generation to generation, as he would have wanted it to..

I miss you Dad- you were and still are the greatest..

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