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Jerry Costello

Caring for Widows and Orphans
March 8, 2015

Rusty Staub never stopped being a New York Met. And more than that, Rusty Staub never stopped being a New Yorker, either. The onetime baseball slugger, now 70, has thrown himself entirely behind the families of the city’s cops and firefighters, and it’s why he’s so dedicated to the widows of two policemen recently killed in the line of duty.

                “We’re waiting till things settle down a bit,” Staub told Denis Hamill of the Daily News.

He was speaking of the fatal shooting late last year of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car, and of his plan to present their widows with checks for $25,000 each. The funds will come from the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children Benefit Fund, which Staub helped get started in 1984.

                The hefty gifts are only the beginning. “Every October for the rest of their lives they’ll receive a $4,000 check,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years and in that time we’ve raised $120 million for fallen heroes of first responders, including EMS workers. Their names go on our Wall of Honor in Battery Park.”

                Staub, a New York restaurateur for many years after he retired from baseball, got started on this incredible charity when he befriended Pat Burns, then an officer of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

                “I’d give him Mets tickets for police families or kids from the PAL,” Staub said. “Then in 1984 a cop was killed in the line of duty. He had a lovely wife and three kids under age five. I felt he received too little fanfare. I called Pat Burns, invited him to my restaurant and told him I had some ideas to raise money for this fallen hero’s family. He really liked the idea.”

                The plan took off, and the widows benefit fund was born. It started modestly, with picnics in the bleachers of Shea Stadium, but soon the PBA, the firefighters’ union and City Hall gave it their support. The Mets’ Foundation joined in. In time it became big, far bigger than Staub dared to hope.

                His own family background played a role in the organization too, Staub told reporter Hamill. An uncle who had joined the New Orleans police force was killed in the line of duty and received very little. “I remember how terrible it was for our grieving family,” he said.

                At the moment, relations are strained between the NYPD and City Hall, a fact that has Staub upset. 

                “It pains me deeply,” he said. “I just hope they can find some common ground because we have two families that are grieving now, hurting badly. I know, I saw it in my own family. And so, it’s still personal for me.

                “We will be giving each widow a check for $25,000. But a much greater gift would be to see New York City heal and come together in honor of these two fallen heroes.”

                Maybe it’s not all that likely that the New York Mets would hold a contest, one that would determine the name of their most popular alumnus. But the feeling here is that Rusty Staub would win the contest hands down.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, ANGELS: MESSENGERS FROM GOD, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org