Balloons filled the air above Franklin Square last Saturday, as nearly 100 residents gathered at Rath Park to remember their friend Tracy McGrath and celebrate her life.
McGrath died of colon cancer on Sept. 13 at age 51, and was buried at Pinelawn Memorial Park on Sept 18, after a service at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Franklin Square that residents waited hours to get into.
“She left a big hole in a lot of people’s hearts,” said her friend Rita Cammarata. “To know her was to love her.”
McGrath (nee Pfeifer) was born to Fran and John Pfeifer, also of Franklin Square. She grew up in Elmont with James “Jimmy” McGrath, whom she would later marry, and attended Sewanhaka High School with her good friend Stephen Cassese, who was dating a girl named Melissa Albergo, from H. Frank Carey High.
“The girls at Sewanhaka were not too thrilled this Carey girl was coming onto their turf,” Melissa Albergo Cassese recounted, but “Tracy accepted me into their tight-knight group . . . and always spread the word that I was a nice person who should be treated kindly.”
After high school, McGrath got a job as a manager at Group Health Incorporated in Garden City and Manhattan, where she worked with Patricia Pear-Bartley, who recalled that McGrath was always willing to help her get her work done.
Tracy married Jimmy McGrath in 1995, and the couple moved to Franklin Square, where Tracy became a stay-at-home mother to Kimberly, Patrick, Kelly Ann and James.
Together, Tracy and Jimmy got involved in the community, cheering their children in a variety of sports at Carey and raising funds for the high school’s lacrosse program, which Jimmy coached for several years.
Jimmy suffered a fatal heart attack while he was hanging Christmas lights in December 2011, and Tracy had to take over the care of their children, who were all under age 14 at the time. But she knew they were going to be OK, Cammarata said, and convinced everyone in Franklin Square of that fact as they organized fundraisers for the family and lacrosse tournaments in Jimmy’s memory.
“Tracy’s greatest passion and accomplishment in life was being a mom,” Cammarata wrote in an online fundraiser she set up for McGrath’s children, who are now 23, 20, 18 and 11. “She loved her children more than anything and would do anything for them.”
Following Jimmy’s death, Tracy went back to work as a manager in the registrar’s offices at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Adelphi University, and became even more of a presence at Carey. She never missed a game, social event or gathering, Cammarata wrote, and could often be heard cheering the loudest at Carey games, telling a story or laughing with her friends.
She also became a member of the Carey Dads’ Club, and helped organize various events for the school community, including the Dads’ Club’s Lemonade Parade last May, after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to her liver. Michael Scavelli, the club’s president, had qualms about holding the parade, he said, but Tracy insisted that students needed something to lift their spirits during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the middle of that, it’s just incredible that she was thinking of other people,” Scavelli said, calling McGrath “a powerful supermom” who brought a spark of life to everything around her.
But she would want her friends and family to celebrate her life, and not mourn her, Cammarata said.
“She knew she had a long road ahead of her, but was ready to fight this for her kids,” Sophia Genna wrote in her own online fundraiser for the McGrath family. “She fought a strong fight, and was a wonder woman throughout the whole thing.”
In addition to her children, McGrath is survived by her siblings, Tia, John and Kristy; and many nieces and nephews.