Joel Meirowitz, a former Glen Cove judge and ‘waterman’ dies at 75


The whale ensnared in a net at Robert Moses State Park had just been released by lifeguards when Joel Meirowitz, also a lifeguard there, arrived with his son, Sam, and stepson, Noah Coons. The three immediately climbed into a lifeguard boat so they could swim with the whale.

The boys, 10 at the time, jumped into the water and gripped the side of the boat as the whale played with them, gently nudging their feet with its  body, Sam said. Then the boys

watched in awe as their dad swam with the whale. 

Joel Meirowitz, 75, of Glen Cove, who died on Sept. 30 of a heart attack, was known to have an insatiable zest for life. Referred to by his younger brother Bruce as a “waterman”— someone who knows and loves everything ocean-related, Joel was a lifeguard for roughly 30 years at Robert Moses and was a snowboard and ski instructor too. Equally, he loved his family and community and tried to help either in any way he could. 

“I heard from so many people how kind and caring he was at the funeral home,” his wife, Patricia said. “I know I had a good man but didn’t realize how many people felt that way.”

Meirowitz had been an elementary school teacher at Archer Street in Freeport in the early 1970s. He always wanted to be an attorney. When accepted to Suffolk University Law School in Boston, he moved there. He worked as an elementary school teacher during the day and attended school at night. Meirowitz  received his Juris Doctorate in 1975, rated among the top 18 percent in his class.

Bruce said his brother never wanted to be a big corporate lawyer. He was born in Massapequa to a middle-class family who couldn’t afford to go on vacations. The boys looked forward to days at the beach and Boy Scout camp each summer instead, Bruce said. 

Helping others was of the utmost importance in the Meirowitz household. Bruce said it was fitting that his brother decided to become a general practitioner in Glen Cove, where a diverse community needed his skills. He moved to Glen Cove with his first wife, Sue, and Sam, who was two years old in 1976, opening his law practice in the city’s downtown on School Street.

“Joel started his life helping people in Freeport as a teacher and ended his life helping anyone who needed help,” Bruce said.

Meirowitz, who had separated from Sue, first saw Patricia in 1982 at a soccer game that Sam and Noah were playing. Joel was smitten. 

“The boys were 7,” said Patricia, who was divorced at the time. “When the game was over, he followed me to where my car was parked and copied down the license plate. A friend gave him my number.”

They were a couple for 14 years prior to marrying for 26 years. But in 1996, right before they were to be wed, Meirowitz, who was 48, suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his right side. He told Patricia that they probably shouldn’t marry but she disagreed. “I could see what kind of man he was,” she said. “He was very involved in his son’s everything. He was a family man.”

By then Meirowitz, had been a city councilman and the city’s attorney during U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s time as Glen Cove mayor, from 1992 to 2001. Suozzi had appointed Meirowitz as a city court judge a year before he had the stroke. 

Although it didn’t take away his mental capacities Meirowitz had to relearn how to process information, speak and write. 

Sam said his father was popular at the hospital. “No matter where he was, he made friends,” he said. “I just got an email from a speech pathologist who said she was a friend. When she lost a family member my dad comforted and supported her. He even matched her up with the man who she ended up marrying.” 

Stuart Jablonski met Meirowitz in 1997 when he returned to the bench. Jablonski wanted to start his own practice. Meirowitz, now using a cane, told Jablonski he needed someone to help him, offering him a space in his office in exchange. 

“I learned the definition of courage from him,” said Jablonski, who is now a Glen Cove City Court Judge. “He had great knowledge of law. But occasionally he’d struggle with a word, and I’d give it to him. And then everything would come out.” 

Sometimes Meirowitz represented people who were unable to pay. Once, Jablonski said, Meirowitz represented an artist who struggled with credit card debt. “He got her out of it, and she cut them all up and made a collage for him,” Jablonski said. “That was Joel’s payment. He always helped people, but he never mentioned it.”

Noah Coons, who described Meirowitz as a second father, said he always marveled at how hard he fought.  

“What impressed me most was his stubbornness to be independent and overcome his extremely difficult disabilities,” Coons said. “Every day he wouldn’t ask for help with the little things and came up with his own ways to do things. He had a cutting board that he hammered nails into from the bottom to the top so he could put his steak through a nail and then be able to cut it himself.”

Judge Richard McCord, a Glen Cove City Court Judge, said Meirowitz was his first colleague when he was elected in 1995. He admired him.

“His entire right side was paralyzed, and he continued working. He never complained to me,” McCord said. “He fought the fight. He faced a challenge a lot of us don’t have to face.”

Meirowitz continued to serve as a judge until 2006. Then he told Suozzi, who was county executive for Nassau County, that he didn’t want to be a judge anymore. In 2007, Suozzi found a spot for Meirowitz — as the deputy attorney for the county’s Office of the Physically Challenged where he felt well suited. 

Meirowitz joined the Garden City law firm Wexler Burkhart Hirschberg & Unger, LLP in 2015. Then, in 2019, he underwent a triple bypass. 

Assemblyman Chuck Lavine, an attorney living in Glen Cove, met Meirowitz in 1980 when they were opposing council on a family court case. 

“He was a wonderful, wonderful lawyer,” Lavine said. “Custody was rarely given to fathers back then and he presented an extra compelling case, and the father got it.”

Lavine said he had just seen Meirowitz a month ago outside a grocery store. 

“We always remained friends,” Lavine said wistfully. “Joel always looked out for the Glen Cove community and was a fierce defender of Glen Cove.”

Suozzi also had a great deal of respect for Meirowitz. “Joel was a wonderful, thoughtful and capable man with a big heart and an indomitable spirit,” Suozzi recalled. “He was a good friend.”

Bruce and Sam searched for a way to honor Meirowitz, looking for something that would exemplify his spirit. The beach came to mind.

“What I remember most about Dad was him saving lives at the beach,” Sam said. “He was a superhero. We’d hear the whistle and then watch him jump off the lifeguard stand and dive into the ocean. He was a guy you could count on to save lives and was there for other lifeguards too.”

They decided to go to field six at Jones Beach to search for seashells but didn’t find any. Undeterred, Bruce and Sam went to field two at Robert Moses, where Meirowitz had been a lifeguard. 

“There were shells all over the beach. Then we went to field three, four and five also where Joel worked and there were shells there everywhere too,” Bruce said. “We brought a big bag of shells home and I put one in Joel’s casket and Sam did too. At the cemetery everyone was given a shell. It was all quite special.”