For about three decades, there was never a time when the Coffey house on Bay Shore Avenue in West Islip was without a foster child or two in the family’s care.
Elizabeth Coffey, who emigrated from Scotland in 1929 at age 10, had read newspaper articles about children in a foundling hospital and thought she had to do something, her daughter, Elizabeth Cagnetto of Central Islip, said.
“It got her by the throat and made her upset that children would have to live in a hospital, and not have a home,” Cagnetto said as she talked about her mother, who was 96 when she died of natural causes on Nov. 27.
Cagnetto said her mother and father, Joseph, began taking in foster children from the New York Foundling Hospital in Manhattan in the early 1960s and continued to do so through the 1980s.
“There were a couple here, a couple there. She was never without children around her,” she said.
Coffey, her parents and her brother emigrated in 1929 from Kilbirnie, Scotland, to Astoria.
She met her future husband in 1940 and they married in August 1941, just before he joined the U.S. Army Air Force.
They moved to West Islip in 1953. He died in 1976.
She is also survived by daughter, Linda Rivera of Salisbury, North Carolina. A son, James, died in 1984.
Elizabeth Coffey was a devout Roman Catholic and went to mass most days at St. Anne’s Church in Brentwood, her daughter said.
She was an avid reader, crocheted and loved the bagpipe music of her native Scotland, her daughter said.
“She tried to teach us the Scottish sword dance,” which is performed by rapidly stepping into the spaces created by crossed swords on the ground, her daughter said, adding, “Of course, we used butter knives.”
One of the foster children, born John Correa, was taken in when he was 2 weeks old and lived in the Coffey home until he was 33 — including three years he spent in an upstairs apartment after he married.
He was never legally adopted, but changed his name to John Coffey after high school.
“I’m a Coffey. It’s who I was. It’s who I am,” said John Coffey, who owns a deli in Amityville.
“She was a beautiful, soft-spoken, Scottish woman who had the biggest heart in the world,” he said.
“I was definitely saved when I was placed in her hands,” he said. “She made me the person I am today.”
Elizabeth Coffey was buried Dec. 1 next to her husband at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.