By Chris Engelhardt
In what made for a joyous yet moving ceremony in honor of a late decorated police officer, elected officials, friends and family united Sunday in Forest Hills to see the intersection of Metropolitan and Ascan avenues co-named Thomas X. Winberry Way.
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), along with officials from American Legion Continental Post 1424 in Forest Hills and other community leaders, gathered to honor Winberry, described by many as a beloved community activist, veteran and decorated NYPD officer.
Winberry, born and raised in Forest Hills, graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1950 and, shortly afterward at 19, joined the U.S. Navy and went on to serve in the Korean War.
When he returned, he joined the American Legion Continental Post 1424 and served as its commander for seven years, eventually becoming Queens County commander. According to his first wife, Dorothy, the two moved to Rosedale and married in 1956. They had three daughters: Debbie, Dottie and Patricia.
“He was a great family man,” she said. “He loved all of his daughters.”
Winberry later remarried and they moved back to Forest Hills in the late 1970s, according to his second wife, Virginia.
Relatives said Winberry joined the NYPD in 1957, starting his career at the 17th Precinct in midtown Manhattan and later moved to the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica. He also spent time as a mounted officer, and in the early 1970s he was awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor for helping to rescue a swimmer who was drowning in the East River.
During his 20-year career with the NYPD, he was cited more than 15 times for acts of courage. According to family, when he retired in 1977, he was serving at the 111th Precinct in Bayside. Family said Winberry died June 29, 2011, at age 78 due to complications from pneumonia.
“If there was one person that defined public service, Thomas Winberry would be it,” said Koslowitz, who organized the event. “As an activist and Queens commander of the American Legion, he was a staple figure in the community.”
Many, including Stavisky, remembered Winberry as a true patriot, and someone who was always smiling and helping others in the community. He was a strong supporter of veterans rights and often traveled across the state to advocate for veteran causes and served as a spokesman for the preservation of the St. Albans Veterans Complex.
“Whether it be serving his country or serving his city, Tom embodied dedication, compassion and caring,” Stavisky said. “His attitude is what brought everyone out today. He was a terrific guy.”
Following remarks from officials and community leaders, members of the Winberry family participated in the sign unveiling of Thomas X. Winberry Way.
Thomas Winberry’s sister, Dolores Gordon, 85, described her brother as a wonderful family man and an outdoorsman who enjoyed traveling, camping and horseback riding. “He was very loving, very loyal, very family oriented,” she said. “He was a plain good old guy. This is such a wonderful tribute.”
Virginia Winberry said her late husband was both compassionate and thoughtful and always willing to lend a helping hand.
“He enjoyed making people laugh,” she said. “He was a gentleman, a good leader and always considerate of people’s feelings. And he never said no to anyone. Everyone misses him, but he’ll never be forgotten.”
Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.