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Charles O’Shea, owner of funeral homes, dies at 85

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Charles J. O’Shea Jr., a prominent figure in the business communities of Wantagh and East Meadow for more than a half-century, died on Dec. 30 at his home in Point Lookout. He was 85.

Born in Queens in 1934, O’Shea grew up with 10 brothers and sisters above his father’s funeral home. A veteran of the Korean War, he served as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2736 in East Meadow. 

After completing his military service, he worked for a number of funeral homes in the New York area. But with a young family — he married Eugenia Algozer in 1957, and six children followed in short order — he worked a series of odd jobs as well. “He had one job at night working in a paper bag factory while he was studying for his license,” said his son, former Nassau County assessor and State Assemblyman Charles O’Shea III.

Charles Jr. opened his first funeral home, on North Jerusalem Avenue in East Meadow, in 1963. It was followed by a second location in Wantagh in 1979, which became the firm’s headquarters, according to Louis Guerra, the president of O’Shea Funeral Homes and his business partner for 22 years. O’Shea was also a part owner of Albrecht, Bruno and O’Shea, in East Islip. 

“He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” Guerra said. Although O’Shea had stepped back from the business, Guerra described him as at best semi-retired. “He would look through our obituaries every day, and if he spotted something different from the way we usually did things, he’d call, even from Jupiter” — Jupiter Island, Fla., where the O’Sheas had a winter home. “He was very hands-on.”

O’Shea maintained the traditional uniform of his profession: striped trousers, black tie and jacket and immaculate white shirt, Guerra said, and expected the same of his employees.

At the same time, Guerra described a man whose quiet generosity was everywhere in evidence throughout his life. “If he saw a need, he’d do his best to fill it,” he said. But O’Shea cautioned that “if anyone but you, the recipient and the people who were helping you knew about it, you were doing it for yourself, not charity.”

After the death of one of his granddaughters, O’Shea became a supporter of Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven, an organization dedicated to supporting the rescue of infants abandoned at fire stations and police precincts. Led by its founder, Tim Jaggard, the organization saved more than 4,000 infants, and O’Shea provided funeral services at no cost for 148 that could not be saved.

“He was a giant of a man,” his son said. “He was always there.” The younger O’Shea said that his father attended all of his high school basketball games, “no matter how busy he was. I don’t know when he slept. And he never complained, even in his last illness.”

O’Shea was a Third Degree Knight in the Pope Pius XII Council 4422 of the Knights of Columbus, and was named a Knight in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem by Pope Benedict XVI. “My mom became a Lady in the order at the same time, which is very rare,” Charles III said, adding that his father was proud of the dual honor.

The funeral homes that O’Shea founded were known for their caring attention to the needs of those with to a wide range of religious traditions. Although he was a devout Catholic, he insisted on providing the same quality of service for all faiths, Guerra said.

A lifelong fan of the New York Giants, O’Shea held a private seat license at MetLife Stadium, and was among the first to buy season tickets for the New York Islanders in 1972. 

Wantagh Chamber of Commerce President Cathy McGrory Powell described O’Shea and his family as “very decent people who were always willing to support the chamber and the community without blinking an eye.”

“He was very active in the community, and an exceptionally nice man,” former East Meadow Chamber President Roseanne Hatzelman said. “He was responsible for instituting the Man of the Year award, and he was extremely generous, supporting all kinds of causes.”

O’Shea was active in a number of professional associations, including the Nassau-Suffolk Funeral Directors’ Association, the Metropolitan Funeral Directors’ Association, the World Organization of Funeral Operatives and the New York State Funeral Directing Advisory Board, to which he was appointed by Gov. Hugh Carey in 1975. He served for 39 years, until 2014, and was the board’s chairman from 1978 to 1990.

O’Shea was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Edward J. Spano Lodge of the Sons of Italy and the Friendly Order of St. Patrick, a charitable organization that promotes ties between the U.S. and Ireland. 

In addition to his wife and son, O’Shea is survived by three daughters, Aileen (Joseph Devaney), Anne and Maura Kohl (David); two other sons, Michael (Beth) and Timothy (Melissa Auldridge); Charles III’s wife, Carole-Ann; 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He was brother to Anne Cavanaugh (the late Dr. James), Carole Yeager (Robert), Cornelia Daly (Joe), Elizabeth Pfohl (the late James), Kathleen Donahue (the late Edward), Richard (Kathleen) and Peggy Ferguson (the late Dr. Edward). He was predeceased by his sisters Helen Hebb (the late Maurice), Maureen Boyle (Gerald) and Patricia; and by his brother Frank. He is also survived by 40 nieces and nephews, including the Rev. Charles Donahue CSP, a Paulist father who serves

the Newman Center at Ohio State University.

Visitation was at the O’Shea Funeral Home in East Meadow on Jan. 2 and 3, and a Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Point Lookout on Jan. 4. Burial followed at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.