John McAvoy, 47, loved being fireman, was legendary cook
Richmond resident could have retired 4 years ago, but loved
Thursday, September 27, 2001
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER
When the Bette Midler recording of "The Wind Beneath My
Wings" was released, Phyllis McAvoy gave a copy to her son,
John. "He was my hero long before this," said his mother.
"Now everyone knows he's a hero."
The gift became even more poignant when Ms. Midler sang the
song Sunday at the memorial at Yankee Stadium for the
victims of the World Trade Center attack.
Mr. McAvoy was a firefighter with Ladder Co. 3 in Greenwich
Village. According to his brother, Michael, his unit last
called in when they were on the 31st floor of Tower 1. He
is among the thousands missing at the Trade Center site.
Mr. McAvoy's wife, the former Paula Romano, and his brother
said many people knew him as a hero, perhaps more than they
could name. They all commented on how every friend was a
Late for dinner one Easter Sunday, Mr. McAvoy said he had
stopped to help someone fix a flat. A story later appeared
in the Advance reporting a mother and daughter who had been
helped by a "guardian angel" named John to fix a blown-out
tire on the Staten Island Expressway near Targee Street.
Although they were waiting for AAA, he quickly changed it
so they would not be in danger. His family knew the last
name of that angel.
"Once he got to know you, he found a way to help you." said
Strangers and family members were all touched by this man's
life. Arranging his schedule to include shopping, doctors'
appointments and fixing the house for his mother was
His wife said Mr. McAvoy was fully involved in raising
their two children, from the time they were infants, when
John "never thought twice about changing a diaper" to the
busy schedules of the two growing adolescents. When she
recently completed her master's degree in public health
administration, he did everything he could to help her
through it, including editing her papers.
In addition to that inexplicable larger-than-life quality
he shared with many firefighters, Mr. McAvoy's cooking was
At home, relates Mrs. McAvoy, "It took a while before he
learned to make appropriate proportions. Early on he made
enough for 20; he'd make enough sauce to last forever."
And, she admitted, "The kids preferred his cooking to
Two days before the attacks, the McAvoy house was filled
with women who gathered for a baby shower for his brother's
baby, expected in three weeks. "He helped me cook and serve
all day," relates Mrs. McAvoy.
On Sunday, an annual family picnic was held in Holmdel,
N.J. After meeting for nearly 30 years, this year's was
held with the theme of "family unity and togetherness." The
younger generation had taken over from the older in
carrying on the tradition with the "Italian side of the
family," related Michael. "And John was always the cook."
Mr. McAvoy, whose 48th birthday would have been Sept. 17,
was described as very funny and very tough.
He began his 24-year service in the Fire Department in 1977
with Engine Co. 26, Manhattan, where he stayed briefly
until he went to Engine Co. 5, also in Manhattan. His
13-year stay there was followed by a stint with Squad 1 in
Brooklyn before he joined Ladder Co. 3 six years ago.
"He loved being a fireman," said his mother. "They were all
like a family. They have been so kind to me. Two or three
were here today, asking if there is anything they can do."
His wife agreed. "He loved his job more than anything," she
said. "He listened to the scanner all day long so he
wouldn't miss anything. He loved the excitement of the job.
He could have retired four years ago, but he wanted to stay
Born in Brooklyn, he was brought to Mariners Harbor in
1961, where he attended St. Adalbert's School in Elm Park
and graduated from Port Richmond High School in 1971.
The McAvoys moved to Port Richmond when they married, and
settled in Richmond 16 years ago.
An avid Yankee fan, he had been a pitcher for the West
Shore Little League.
He also played in league hockey in his youth, and was able
to continue his love of the game through coaching and
attending his son Kevin's games in the Staten Island Ranger
league. He was also a fan of the New York Rangers.
"All of us have been in this limbo too long. It's the
longest wake I've been to. We all need the memorial to get
on the other side of this," said Mrs. McAvoy.
"I know my children and myself will come out of this
stronger. All this pain and his life are not for naught.
I'm still trying to figure out how I can teach my children
that, and that you can go on with your life and make a
contribution to society."
In addition to his wife, Paula, his mother, Phyllis, his
brother, Michael, and his son, Kevin James, surviving are
his daughter, Kate Marie, and his brother, George.
There will be a memorial mass Saturday at 11 a.m. in St.
Patrick's R.C. Church, Richmond. In lieu of flowers
donations are requested to the Rusty Staub Police and Fire
Widows and Children's Fund, PO Box 3713, Grand Central