By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
A Ridgewood police officer who died escorting people to safety on Sept. 11, 2001 had the street on which he coached children in track renamed in his honor Sunday.
Ramon “Ray” Suarez, a 14-year veteran with the Police Department's Transit Bureau, was remembered as a beloved mentor to children at St. Matthias Church in a ceremony attended by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, local politicians and throngs of Suarez' fellow officers, friends and family.
“Ray, you will never be forgotten,” said Carmen Suarez, the officer's wife, in an emotional speech before unveiling the new street sign with the couple's family on the corner of Catalpa and Woodward avenues.
Carmen Suarez dedicated the street, now known as Police Officer Ramon Suarez Avenue, to the children of the Catholic parish where the couple's 10-year-old daughter Jillian goes to school.
“I could have chosen the street where we live, or where he was raised, but I chose Catalpa and Woodward avenues because he loved the children of St. Matthias,” said Carmen Suarez.
As if to affirm that relationship, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts from the church led the ceremony's flag salute and national anthem.
Suarez, who would have turned 47 on Sunday, is known to have carried at least one person out of the World Trade Center and directed many others to safety before he was killed, the police commissioner said.
“He did it by instinct – instinct that made him a model officer,” said Kelly.
In addition to coaching the St. Matthias Mustangs track team, Suarez, who was born in Puerto Rico, was accomplished in karate and just a few credits away from completing his bachelor's degree at Pace University.
Suarez's partner, Officer Steve Rentas, said he never understood why Suarez had moved to Queens from his childhood home of East Harlem until he saw the outpouring of community support for the Suarez family after the officer's death.
“So many people sent so many wonderful words,” said Rentas, who said his partner had taught young people the values of “sportsmanship, respect for elders, courtesy and respect for (their) fellow man.”
John Bennett, who oversees the track program for the diocese's Catholic Youth Organization, recalled that the athletic Suarez nearly fainting with exhilaration as he raced to the finish line at a track meet.
“He lives on in the laughter and enthusiasm of all the girls and boys he (mentored),” said Bennett.
Suarez was described by friends and family as devoted to his three children, Jillian, Sophia and Ray Jr., and as a local hero by state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village).
“We are a community that does not forget,” said Nolan. “We will not forget.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.