Edward Thomas Dempsey, who led an exemplary life, serving in both the Armed Forces during World War II and in the community of Rye, N.Y., died on March 8, 2022, a few months short of his 100th birthday. He was affectionately known to family and longtime friends as Sonny, and to the rest of Rye as Ed.
His grandparents landed in Rye after emigrating from Ireland, living at Park Lane off Milton Road. His father, Edward P. Dempsey, was a carpenter working on a project on Long Island when he met his future wife, Ellen Veronica Purick of Port Jefferson. When Ed was born on July 3, 1922, his parents were living with an aunt and uncle in Mineola, but they returned to Rye after the project ended. His father then built a home on Manursing Avenue and Ed, the eldest of five children, lived in Rye the rest of his life.
He attended Resurrection Grammar School and Rye High School, where he was an outstanding athlete. He excelled in baseball, playing third base for the Garnets, and set many records as a member of the Track team. He continued to play baseball and softball as an adult and later found time to coach the Limerick Team in Rye’s Softball league. He enjoyed watching his children and grandchildren go on to play and then themselves coach. Even at 99 years old, he rarely missed seeing his sons and grandsons play on the Hammerheads Softball team.
One of his many longtime friends, Jack Miley, who retired to Pennsylvania, said he and Ed talked twice a month and they never tired of talking baseball — a new record, a particularly great or awful game or player trade.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ed enlisted in the Army, with four of his friends. He proudly served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1941 until being honorably discharged in 1945 when the war ended. After basic training at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where the trainees lived in a tent city, he was ordered to Victorville, California, in the Mojave Desert where the Army Air Corps had constructed a new air base for training pilots and navigators. He was quickly promoted to Corporal, then Sergeant.
He was initially assigned to the Fire Brigade, which stood ready to deal with air crashes. Although he longed to be transferred to gunnery school, the Army sought to capitalize on his aptitude for mechanics and assigned him to school for mechanics in La Junta, Colorado. While there, he learned to build, maintain, and repair B-25s, and then was sent to Seattle, Washington, to work on B-29s. Towards the end of the war, he served at other bases, including Roswell, New Mexico, and New York’s Mitchell Field, and was both a trainer and a navigator.
Following the war, Ed returned to Rye, where he quickly became, as one newspaper recounted, “the heart and soul of Rye.” He married Joan Mary Brown, also of Rye, on November 29, 1947, at Church of the Resurrection. The couple settled down in a house he and his father built on Harbor Terrace Drive, which Ed never moved from.
He worked for Rye’s Department of Public Works and then as an aircraft mechanic at Westchester County Airport. In 1946, he joined the Rye Fire Department, first as a volunteer assigned to the Milton Engine & Hose Company, and, starting in 1949, as a professional firefighter who was proud to drive the Bull Dog Mack Pumper. The two biggest fires he remembered fighting were at Playland and American Yacht Club. In 1984, after 35 years with the Rye Fire Department as a professional firefighter, he retired due to age regulations but remained active in the Department for several decades and received the award for over 75 years of service.
To help support his family, Mr. Dempsey held a second job for over forty years at United Hospital, driving the ambulance and working security. Through his bravery in the Army and the Fire Department, as well as at United, he saved numerous lives throughout his lifetime.
He served as president of the Rye Recreation Senior Club, as a Boy Scout Troop No. 1 leader, and as head usher at Resurrection Church, where he was a devout parishioner. He coached softball and was an officer of Rye Little League and Babe Ruth League for over 20 years. He taught countless children how to play the game properly while making sure everyone had fun. He was very proud of running the Little League Parade for several decades. For his many contributions to the Rye community, Ed Dempsey was inducted into the Westchester Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2003.
For three years, he was the commander of American Legion Post 128 and organized the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies at City Hall. Not only was he honored with the Post’s Americanism Award, but he was also inducted into the New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
Rye Rec Superintendent Sally Rogol had this to say about Mr. Dempsey: “Ed was one of my favorite seniors at Rye Rec. He had a great sense of humor and was always pulling my leg. He would ask for strawberry shortcake, regardless of what meal we were serving. We loved arguing about baseball and I loved seeing him at all his children’s and grandchildren’s games. He will be missed by all.”
Edward was predeceased by his wife of over 63 years, Joan Mary Dempsey, in 2011, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease; his son Kevin; his infant daughter Eileen Mary; his grandson Matthew Berry; his sisters, Mary Jacqueline, Regina, and Irene; and his brother, Lawrence “Bubby”. He is survived by his daughters, Patricia (Len) Berry and Maureen (Carl) Moeller, and sons, Sean (Cecelia), Brian (Lisa) and Terence (Jacki); his grandchildren: Michael (Erika) Moeller, Colleen (Jason) Foster, Christopher Berry, and Steven, Theodore, Gregory (Maureen), Andrew, Jeffrey and Lauren Dempsey; and his great-grandchildren: Michael, Shayna, Gavin, and Justin Moeller, August and Zephen Foster, and Elise, Nora, and Iris Dempsey.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held March 12 at Resurrection Church.
Donations in Ed Dempsey’s memory may be made to the Rye Seniors, c/o Rye Recreation Center, 281 Midland Avenue, Rye, NY 10580, or Rye American Legion Post 128, PO Box 128, Rye, NY 10580.