The Village of Rockville Centre lost a dedicated civil servant when retired Trustee Edward Oppenheimer died on Sept. 19, at age 66. More than 200 people attended a service for him last Friday at Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David and shared stories about his life, painting a portrait of a man who went above and beyond for his hometown.
“We have lost a close ally,” Rabbi Howard Diamond said during the service.
Diamond spoke about Oppenheimer’s leadership qualities and his love for the community. “He embraced leadership with all his heart, all his energy,” Diamond said. “His ability and desire to be leader was a demonstration of his love for Rockville Centre . . . He had an innate love for anyone and everyone he came into contact with in his community. He would do anything for them.”
Oppenheimer, a third-generation Rockville Centre resident, started serving his community decades ago. In 1979 he joined the Rockville Centre Volunteer Fire Department’s Floodlight Rescue Company No. 1, and he remained a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician for 40 years.
Chuck Joyce, a former deputy mayor and a Fire Department volunteer for more than 50 years, delivered the first eulogy. He described the impact Oppenheimer had on the village through his work as a firefighter and EMT. “He had an amazing response time. He was one of the top three responders, and routinely put his job and his family on hold to answer a call,” Joyce said. “His actions and dedication helped to shape the community . . . You never had any doubt about how he felt about helping Rockville Centre residents.”
Joyce recalled how Oppenheimer, as part of a team of first responders, helped revive a man who had suffered cardiac arrest at his daughter’s dance recital at South Side Middle School in 2016. That year, Oppenheimer was honored at the Town of Hempstead’s Firematic Awards ceremony for his efforts. He was named the Herald’s Person of the Year in 2017, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer.
That July, a tumor was removed from his parotid gland, and he had reconstructive jaw surgery. Despite the cancer treatments, he still served as trustee, firefighter and EMT, not letting his medical condition slow him down. “He continued to attend to calls even while he fought his medical battle,” Joyce said. “During that time, he always asked about my family and about the fire department. He never once complained about his treatment or condition.”
Diamond joked that it seemed like Oppenheimer would pull the siren the moment he passed Diamond’s house. “I once asked him about this,” the rabbi recalled, and he said, ‘I do it for you, so you know I’m on the job.’”
Oppenheimer served as village trustee for 10 years, from 2009 until his retirement in July.
“He has a long history of service in this community,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said in his eulogy, listing the many honors and awards that Oppenheimer received over the years. “He was committed to making our community better and he truly did.” Speaking on behalf of the village board, Murray said, “We have been proud and honored to serve alongside Ed. He was not just a public official, he was a special friend.”
Oppenheimer also served as a Nassau County legislator, and was a past president of the Rockville Centre Public Library, a founding trustee of the village’s Community Fund — serving as treasurer for 25 years — a member of the Planning Board and a trustee for the Chamber of Commerce and Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David.
He attended Morris Elementary School and South Side High School. In 1975, he received a degree in business administration from Northeastern University, and then became a certified public accountant, opening his own practice in Rockville Centre in 1977.
Longtime friends echoed many of the same sentiments and stories shared at the service. Resident Jeff Greenfield first met Oppenheimer in seventh grade, forming a friendship that lasted for decades. “I salute him as a dedicated civil servant and volunteer,” Greenfield told the Herald. “He will be sorely missed.”
According to fellow volunteer firefighter Jeff Goodstein, Oppenheimer was consistently “one of the top three call makers for the Fire Department every year,” even after his diagnosis. “He was always one of the first on the scene, and responded to more than 800 calls per year to provide medical assistance to residents in times of need,” Goodstein said of his friend of 30 years.
As past president and vice president of Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David, Goodstein also knew Oppenheimer through their mutual involvement in the temple.
“He was dedicated to his family and to his community,” Goodstein said.
Oppenheimer’s children, Andrew and Sarah, spoke at the service about how proud their father was of his family and how he was always there for them, never missing a game or recital — always with a camera in hand to capture the moments. They thanked the community for the love and support shown to their family throughout his illness.
“He was the greatest man we ever knew,” Sarah said.
His sister, Jill, also spoke about his commitment to his family, his penchant for doing things the right way and how he would always stand up for her. “Whatever my brother did, he did with his whole heart and self,” she said. “He was there for any one of us, no matter what.”
In addition to his wife, Ethel, his son, Andrew, his daughter, Sarah, and his sister, Jill, Oppenheimer is survived by his son-in-law, Brad Biel, and his grandson, Sean. Burial was at New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale.
“Ed’s life ended right where it started,” Murray said. “He was a man of integrity, and he had a steady moral compass. He dedicated his life to his family and to the community. He is the embodiment of what an outstanding citizen is.”
Because Oppenheimer was always there for his neighbors, Murray said, the community will also be there for his family.
“We will keep his memory alive and in our hearts in this village,” Murray said.