Donald Petrie, 90, of Great Neck dies

Donald Petrie, a World War II veteran and Donald Petrie, a World War II veteran and bank executive, led a disciplined life that reflected his commitment to hard work and order, died Aug. 30 at his Great Neck home. Photo Credit: Handout

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A dapper businessman who wore impeccable Brooks Brothers suits and bow ties, Donald J. Petrie could be easily spotted among railroad commuters in Great Neck.

He walked to and from the station every day for decades, carrying his briefcase and refusing rides fellow commuters offered, regardless of rain, sleet or snow, family members said.

Petrie died Aug. 30 at his Great Neck home, following health problems that came after a stroke in 2008. He was 90.

Petrie, a World War II veteran and bank executive, led a disciplined life that reflected his commitment to hard work and order, family members recalled. He was devoted to helping others through his work for a Manhattan nonprofit providing temporary housing to young women.

"He had a bone-dry wit and was a very sly, very funny guy," said his son, Douglas Petrie, 49, a television producer in Los Angeles. "He wasn't touchy-feely and he didn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, but he cared."

Donald Petrie grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and attended Chaminade High School in Mineola.

He worked delivering newspapers and enlisted for military service after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, relatives said. He joined the Army Air Corps and trained in Texas for his assignment as bomber navigator in Italy. He had risen to captain by the war's end.

After the war, like many others of his generation, he returned to work, study and continue the romance with his girlfriend. He married Jane Adams in 1949 and they eventually moved to her family's home in Great Neck.

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, he held a variety of jobs while pursuing his degree at Manhattan College, his son said. He worked as a messenger for the Otis Elevator Company, head of personnel at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., and executive vice president of the United States Trust Co. of New York. That led to his job as vice president at Marine Midland Bank, where he retired in the late 1980s.

Petrie was most proud of his work at the Webster Apartments, a Manhattan nonprofit where he was named president in 1973 and served for 35 years, Douglas Petrie said. The Webster offered low-cost housing to single women, while limiting men's access to old-fashioned "beau parlors."

It was a fitting role for a dignified gentleman, his son said, adding that his father's life "was kind of a black and white movie in the classic sense."

In addition to his wife and son Douglas, Petrie is survived by son Scott Petrie of Radnor, Pa.; daughters Anne Petrie of Lexington, Ohio, Elizabeth Devoll of Westport, Conn., and Susan Petrie-Badertscher of Manhattan; and four granddaughters and four grandsons.

A funeral service was held Saturday at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Great Neck. He was buried wearing one of his Brooks Brothers suits at All Saints Cemetery in Great Neck, Douglas Petrie said.

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