Ellen Bernice Weisenberg, wife of longtime New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and mother to a severely developmentally disabled son named Ricky, spent decades alongside her husband advocating for the state’s most vulnerable children and adults.
A nurse by profession, she stopped working in the 1970s and took a more active role in supporting her husband’s political career as they pushed for greater resources for the intellectually challenged.
Ellen Weisenberg died Monday at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside from complications associated with metastatic melanoma. She was 81.
The Weisenbergs of Long Beach were a blended family with Ricky at its center. The former assemblyman called his wife a gift from God. He said felt the same way about Ricky and would cry tears of joy watching them together.
“I saw how much happiness Ellen got from Ricky, a child who could not speak or even cry,” he said. “She would pet him and touch his face, and he would hold her hand and put his head on her shoulder.”
It’s through them, he said, that he learned the meaning of unconditional love.
The Weisenbergs were together for 50 years, married for 48.
Those who knew them personally and professionally marveled at their closeness.
Time apart was tough for both of them: The former assemblyman would talk to his wife by phone if he was pulled away to Albany, and the pair was always thrilled at the chance to reunite.
“She was as excited as a newlywed every time he would walk in the door,” said daughter, Julie Laufer of Boston. “Wherever they were, they would hold hands and stop and kiss. They were stunningly affectionate with each other. Theirs was a template for their children’s marriages to follow.”
The Weisenbergs became passionate advocates for people with disabilities, partly because of Ricky’s early experience at facilities meant to care for such children. As a young boy, he was nearly starved at one such center and was badly scalded at another a few years later.
It took the family years to find the right care for him.
Former Assemb. Robert Sweeney said the couple were as devoted to each other as they were to Ricky.
“Nothing was allowed to come in the way of that,” Sweeney said. “They made a point of setting aside time — the two of them, together — to make sure his birthday was celebrated, or whatever occasion it might be.”
Sweeney said the former assemblyman’s love and devotion to his son helped shape Weisenberg’s legislative agenda regarding people with special needs.
“Harvey felt very strongly that he needed to take a leading role in that issue,” Sweeney said. “It made it personal for him.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for contributions to their nonprofit organization via harveyandellenweisenberg.com, which helps families find help and care for their loved ones.
Services will be held Wednesday, April 20, 2 p.m., at Gutterman’s Funeral Home in Rockville Centre. Shiva service will be at Brenda and Howie Seigal’s home at 199 Washington Ave., Harbor Isle, Island Park, on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and again from 7 to 9 p.m.
In addition to her husband, daughter and Ricky, of Plainview, survivors include daughter Vicki Laufer of Long Beach; sons Gregg Weisenberg of Island Park and Russell Weisenberg or Sarasota, Florida; and six grandchildren.