Albert Petrocelli, Fire Chief Who Lost a Son on 9/11, Dies at 73

NY Times - April 07, 2020

by Dan Barry

He and a firefighter son answered the call when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center; another son died there. Mr. Petrocelli had the novel coronavirus.

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In recent years, Albert Petrocelli was known in Staten Island’s Huguenot section as that nice man with the rosary beads and the bountiful garden. He walked the local streets, rosary in hand, offering to say prayers for those who could use them: a neighbor, a crossing guard, anyone.

But Mr. Petrocelli, who died at 73 of the novel coronavirus on April 1, was more than a retiree with beads and time on his hands. He served in Vietnam. He served as a New York Fire Department battalion chief. He lost a son in the World Trade Center attacks.

Most of all, his wife, Ginger Petrocelli, said, “He was a good guy.”

Mr. Petrocelli was born on Feb. 21, 1947, to Peter Petrocelli, a postal worker, and Mary (Capece) Petrocelli, who ran the household. The family lived first on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and then in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he attended William E. Grady High School and planned on becoming an electrician.

When he was still in high school, Albert met an Irish-American girl, Ginger Walsh, at a sweet shop in Bay Ridge, and they began to date. After high school, and with the Army about to send him overseas, they married in a hurry — on March 18, 1967, the day between the Irish-centric St. Patrick’s Day and the Italian-centric St. Joseph’s Day.

Mr. Petrocelli came home from the war a year later, and before long the couple had two boys. He enjoyed a long career with the Fire Department, retiring as a battalion chief in Brooklyn. The sons — Albert Jr., a firefighter, and Mark, a commodities broker — both married and settled in Staten Island.

“Everything was like … ,” Mr. Petrocelli once said, and Mrs. Petrocelli finished the thought: “The way it should be.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mark was on the 92nd floor of the north tower when the first plane hit. His father and older brother rushed to Lower Manhattan, determined to find him. But his father’s can-do attitude, forged by war and fire, could not overcome what they found, and could not find. Mark Petrocelli was 28.

Things were not as they should have been, but the Petrocellis endured. They set up a memorial in their yard. They doted on their two granddaughters, Emily and Lily. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in style.

They also managed to have a brief moment with Pope Francis during the pontiff’s New York visit in 2015. While attending a ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Mr. Petrocelli held out his firefighter’s hat, which contained some rosaries and prayer cards, and asked the pope to bless them in Mark’s memory.

“The pope smiled and blessed everything he had,” Mrs. Petrocelli recalled.

Mr. Petrocelli walked nearly every morning to 7:30 Mass at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School. He walked everywhere, in fact, holding his rosary beads of green Connemara marble — that is, when he wasn’t nurturing his garden’s fruits and vegetables, which he would often give away. Sometimes he gave away the entire plant.

He began to feel uncharacteristically fatigued in mid-March, declined over the next two weeks, and died at Staten Island Hospital’s south campus. In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Petrocelli is survived by two granddaughters.

“When Mark was killed, I was devastated,” Mrs. Petrocelli said, voice breaking. “But I had Albie. We did it together.”

A week after his death, his wife was continuing to receive messages from the many people her husband had touched.

I have his strawberry plants, they say. I have his fig trees.