Dozens of local tennis players gathered on May 21 in Oceanside Park to remember their friend Jay Fagin, from Long Beach. Fagin died on Jan. 18, 2022, just shy of his 87th birthday, and was known by many in the community, always seen around town wearing a cowboy hat and humming a tune.
The players shared emotional stories about Fagin before unveiling a bench that they donated to the park in his honor. He would be out on any available court — mostly at the park — seven days a week, playing only on the deuce court, because he had only one working eye. The other was plastic, and for comic relief he’d tap on it.
Despite his age, “He was a very good tennis player, very strong,” said Judy Roth, one of his closest friends. other players would go easier on him, “because he looked older — he looked like an old man. But … he was a very strong player and a very kind player.” Roth added, “He never slowed down. He was always ready to go.”
About eight years ago, Fagin saved a friend’s life on a tennis court. They were playing at Point Set in East Rockaway, and his friend fell; he was having a heart attack. Fagin gave him CPR until paramedics arrived. The U.S. Tennis Association gave him an award for effort.
He was known for his generosity, for always giving to anyone in need. “If somebody needed help — whatever kind of help — he would go out of his way,” Roth said. “. . . He was really a very special, very giving and very generous person. He really was. And you were lucky if you had him as a friend.”
The day after the dedication, Roth played tennis at the park, and said she could feel his energy emanating from the bench, which she had never felt before.
Fagin wasn’t all about tennis. He was a well-rounded man who loved the arts, who went see the orchid show every year at the Bronx Botanical Garden.
He was an avid theatergoer and a New York Times crossword puzzle solver. He was a gardener who loved his music loud. And on top of it all, he could make anyone laugh.
Fagin graduated from Long Beach High School in 1952, and went to class reunions until the end of his life. After school he served briefly as a Marine at the end of the Korean War.
When he returned from Korea, he was a textile salesman, selling linens. He also owned two buildings on East Broadway in Long Beach, and you’d think he was the mayor, his friends said, the way people would grab him for a quick chat.
“The Town of Hempstead was extraordinary to me,” Roth said of its assistance in creating the memorial. “Everyone I talked to tried to help and were there for me and made it easier. I can only compliment everyone that was involved in this from the Town of Hempstead — really superlative.”
“The Town of Hempstead was pleased to dedicate a beautiful park bench at Oceanside Park for avid tennis player Jay Fagin,” Councilwoman Laura Ryder said in an emailed statement. “The bench, adorned with an engraved plaque with Jay’s name, is situated right beside the tennis courts . . . the courts where Jay loved to play. I was honored to attend the dedication ceremony on behalf of the Town of Hempstead, with 30 of Jay’s closest friends, to pay tribute to a man who was a kind and generous friend. His friends expressed sincere gratitude to the Town of Hempstead for facilitating the bench dedication and remembering a very special man who touched the lives of so many.”