Blue Point resident Jennifer McNamara wasn’t sure what to expect when she first found the piece of loose-leaf paper on which her husband, 9/11 first responder John F. McNamara, described his last wishes.
Jennifer has worked to fulfill each item on the list since she found it in a bag John had with him at the hospital.
“I’m going to honor every last wish he had to the best of my ability,” she said.
The FDNY firefighter didn’t die in the 9/11 attacks, but his work as a first responder, and later, his position as a Ground Zero tour guide is what his family believed caused his cancer, and subsequently, his death in Aug. 2009 at the age of 44.
The list included instructions for his funeral and a request that Jennifer take the couple’s then 2-year-old son Jack to Disney World, but he also had a wish that would take Jennifer years and much dedication to fulfill: He wanted her to build a community center in Blue Point.
Establishing a center would bring a cherished wish of John’s to fruition. John and Jennifer discussed the idea towards the end of his life, so Jennifer wasn’t surprised when the request made John’s final wish list.
“John had vision of a place where kids could go and stay out of trouble,” Jennifer said. “He grew up in Brooklyn and felt teen centers and that sort of thing saved him from getting into trouble.”
Building a center was something Jennifer couldn’t do all on her own, so she enlisted the help of friends and community members to form the John F. McNamara Foundation, or "Johnny Mac Foundation," to serve as a vehicle to set her husband’s dream into motion.
After a board of directors was established, the group planned a variety of events to raise funds with a long-term goal of saving enough money to build a community center.
The foundation held a golf outing in June, a car wash in August, and the next event is a 5K run/2K walk scheduled for Oct. 15. Each event brings John’s vision of basketball courts, adult education classes and teen activities all in one place just a little closer.
“There would be something for every age range; he wanted it to be the hub of the community,” Jennifer said.
In accord with John’s motto “whatever it takes,” the foundation now works to do just that to realize the dream of a great man.
John’s love of helping others was further demonstrated by his own charity work. At the time John was sick, the McNamara’s didn’t know anyone else suffering from 9/11-related cancer, but soon enough, more and more firefighters were falling ill.
John joined with some of his fellow firemen to establish the NYC FF Brotherhood Foundation, an organization “dedicated to the belief that no man is left behind,” as the website states.
The New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation started out as a resource for sick firemen, a place where they could go for assistance and information on anything, such as help getting referrals for medication, assistance filing for workman’s compensation or if they just needed to talk and hear they weren’t alone. Now, the foundation avails itself to all members of the department, not just the sick.
“Johnny Mac Foundation” Vice President Vanessa Rose Scionti Lee said John’s zest for life, even after being struck with cancer, was made evident in the short time she knew him.
“Our mission comes right from John’s own heart and wishes. We’re honoring someone lost, and have his thoughts and feelings behind everything we do. John’s mission in life was to do everything he could for others,” Vanessa said. “He always said ‘whatever it takes,’ and he really lived that to the very end.
With a dedicated board and ambitious goals, the foundation has all the tools in place to launch a project that could have a tremendous impact on the community it aims to serve.
Jennifer said the board has agreed that when they have enough money to consider locations for the center, they would like to build in a main area, but they don’t want to disrupt where people live. With so little commercial space available, it may be difficult to find the perfect property, Jennifer said.
“We’ll wait for the right space,” she said, adding that when this project comes to fruition, her and John’s now 4-year-old son Jack will likely be old enough to stand there and cut the ribbon of the community center with his father’s name on it.
Of course, Jennifer is committed to making this dream a reality for the people of Bayport and Blue Point to enjoy, but its creation is also a testament to her dedication in fulfilling her husband’s deathbed wish.
“It’s not just that this is a great idea and a nice thing to do and an asset to the community, but for me, it’s also very personal,” Jennifer said. “I take every opportunity I have to keep his name out there to make sure people don’t forget who he was and why he died.”