Brave enough to reach over the Atlantic Beach Bridge and save a man’s life, Robert J. DeRose Sr. taught his children through his deeds.
“Basically my dad’s work ethic,” Robert J. DeRose Jr. said is what he will remember most about his father. “He taught my sister and I. I’m at work today because I needed something to do. And he was the kind of guy that if someone called in sick he would stay until someone came in.”
DeRose died on vacation in Canada on Jan. 2. He was 79.
Born on March 1, 1933 in Lawrence, he lived in the Five Towns, including Cedarhurst and Inwood, and in East Rockaway.
He graduated from Lawrence High School in 1951 and enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 30, during the Korean War. DeRose served on the icebreaker USS Atka with Admiral Richard Byrd, and visited both the North and South poles. Honorably discharged on Aug. 19, 1955, he earned the Good Conduct and National Defense Service medals.
Later that year, DeRose began his 37-year career with the Nassau County Bridge Authority. He oversaw the toll collectors on the Atlantic Beach Bridge when there no machines to take the money. Promotions earned him No. 1 sergeant status.
“My dad was a very proud and independent man whose priority was to take care of his family,” said his daughter Kristen DeRose, adding that DeRose would frequently walk the 18 miles from his East Rockaway home to work at the A.B. Bridge and work odd jobs for extra money. “My father had a very strong work ethic that he instilled in both my brother and me.”
On a midnight shift in the late 1970s, he saved a man’s life. “When he talked about it he told us he said to the man, ‘it’s not worth it’, and kept repeating that, when the man jumped dad grabbed him and yanked him back over to the bridge side,” DeRose Jr. said. “The police came and got the man into an ambulance.”
The rescue earned him recognition from Nassau County. A work-related injury forced DeRose into retirement in 1992.
A life member of Inwood-based Pfc. John J. Olivieri VFW Post 1582, DeRose loved playing the card game scat, bowling — once throwing a 298, two pins off a perfect game — was a huge Yankees fan and rooted for the Giants in football. “Derek Jeter was his man and he had a mini-season ticket plan,” his son said. “The Giants were his team whether they won or lost.”
An inveterate collector, DeRose Jr. said his father saved every ticket stub from the games he attended to letters his family wrote to a cut slip his now 47-year-old son received in 1982. “He was a very kind and loving man, he will be missed by all his family,” DeRose Jr. said. “In all the stories I heard about him, I never heard a negative word.”
In addition to his son and daughter, DeRose is survived by his wife Maralyn (née Irving), brothers Frank (Sandra), George (Betsy) and William (Roberta) and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial mass was held on Jan. 10 at St. Joachim Church in Cedarhurst. His cremains were interred at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn with full military honors.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital at 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.
“I know that he is looking down on me and will continue to guide me and watch over me as I continue my life’s journey,” Kristen said.