Brooklyn has lost its “Santa Claus.”
Snow-bearded grassroots gladiator Jerry O’Shea, who wore many hats in the community — most notably as veteran director of the Brooklyn Housing and Family Services, and chairman of Community Board 15 — died on Sunday, succumbing to a heart-related illness at an assisted living facility on Long Island. It was one of two such places the 76-year-old widower from Homecrest had lived in during the past two years. He is survived by his daughter, Hillary, and a son, Jerry.
O’Shea, a heavy smoker who suffered a stroke last year, left behind a legacy of good deeds, from helping tenants with their building repairs to getting power projects such as the Loehmann’s construction in Sheepshead Bay off the ground, said fellow workers of the mild-mannered Good Samaritan.
“The borough has lost a humanitarian of the likes that we may not see again,” said Larry Jayson, director of the Brooklyn Housing and Family Services, who worked with O’Shea for many years as his associate director, and thought of him as a friend and mentor.
“No matter how long it took, Jerry was going to get their problems solved,” commented Jayson, referring to O’Shea’s commitment to the endless stream of ruffled tenants who would come in off the street to seek his assistance with their landlord problems.
One time, he recalls, an unidentified package was left outside the group’s office and while cops were busy evacuating the building, O’Shea was busy on the phone doing what he did best — answering “just one more question” from someone in distress.
“He knew how to help people,” said Jayson, who will deliver a eulogy at O’Shea’s funeral on Saturday.
For his peers, the late activist demonstrated a flawless work ethic and an eager willingness to get along.
“When we had issues with the community, Jerry would try to reunite everyone on the board to work as a group,” said Community Board 15 Chairwoman Theresa Scavo.
O’Shea, described as “Damon Runyon-esque” by Councilman Mike Nelson (D-Sheepshead Bay) who appointed him to that board, also worked closely with its former boss, John Nikas, reviewing variances as treasurer, and city budgets for agencies to make sure that cops and firemen received their share of the pie.
“He wanted it all spelled out,” recalled Nikas, who visited O’Shea just weeks before his death, and found him to be in good spirits.
“He just had a little trouble walking, that’s all,” he said.
According to Nikas, shortly after that visit, O’Shea suffered a heart attack in the hospital and then lapsed into a fatal coma.
“Jerry was our Santa, he always seemed to be happy, never confrontational, he was just an alright, regular guy,” commented the community leader, adding that before he heard the grave news he was preparing to visit his friend again — this time armed with a batch of freshly baked baklava and spinach pie.
“He just loved them,” laughed Nikas.
A wake for Jerry O’Shea will be held at Marine Park Funeral Home (3024 Quentin Rd. between Marine Parkway and E. 31st Street, no phone), Nov. 19 from 2-5 pm and 7-9 pm. The funeral mass will be at St. Brendan’s Church (Avenue O at E. 12th Street, no phone), Nov. 20 at 9:30 am. He will be laid to rest at St. Charles Cemetery in Pinelawn, New York.