It took years. And for Emmet and Sue Kelly, seeing a Sept. 11, 2001 memorial park built near their home wasn’t just about their son Thomas, a NYC firefighter who was killed responding to the terror attacks.
It was also about preserving the Reeves Park neighborhood their son loved so much.
The park — built on what’s now county-owned land on the spot of a once-planned shopping center — was finally completed and unveiled this past Sept. 11.
Within nine weeks, both Emmet and Sue Kelly died.
“That was huge that they got to see the memorial park,” said Bob Kelly, who helped lead efforts, along with civic, town and county leaders, to preserve the property as parkland. “It meant a lot to them. They both had said the same thing, ‘At least we got to see it completed.”
Thomas Kelly, who died trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center, had a home in Reeves Park, where his parents owned a second home.
At the vigil this Sept. 11, both Bob, a retired city firefighter, and Jim, a retired New York City police officer, pushed their parents in wheelchairs down to the park at Sound Avenue and Park Road — which has also been named in honor of Thomas Kelly — for what has become an annual memorial service. (The vigil was being held at the spot even before the land was purchased by Suffolk County last year.)
Emmet Kelly died on Oct. 15 at the age of 82, following a lengthy illness, and Sue, whose full name was Marie Suzanne Kelly, died on Nov. 18 at the age of 79. They both had been ill for much of the year.
Emmet was a career FDNY member, having been in the department for 36 years, Bob Kelly said. Sue Kelly was a dietician at Peck Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn and later was a manager at an A&S department store in Queens.
“She died of a broken heart,” Bob Kelly said of his mom, who, like his dad, died in their Reeves Park home.
The shopping center was first proposed for the four-acre land in 2003. The development ran into widespread community opposition from Reeves Park residents, but the courts had sided with the developer in a lawsuit challenging a town rezoning of the property.
Then in 2010, former county Legislature Ed Romaine put in a bill to have the county buy the property for a memorial park. The property owner, EMB Enterprises, led by Kenney Barrey, eventually agreed to the sale and the county Legislature approved the purchase in Nov. 2012.
Bob Kelly said his parents seeing the park probably eased their remaining days on earth.
“Now, they are all together,” he said of his brother and his parents. “They are not in pain. They are all happy.”