Gail Shapiro, a devoted wife and mother who decades ago heroically shielded her young son from injury in a car crash that left her permanently disabled, died Thursday under hospice care at her home in Hicksville. She was 72 and had dementia.
When he was 5 years old, the family was in a car crash, Todd Shapiro said. Gail Shapiro, sharing the passenger seat with her only child, tucked him under her legs, sparing him any injury.
“My mom was my hero,” said Todd Shapiro, who is president of the Garden City and Manhattan-based public relations firm Todd Shapiro Associates. “She saved my life. She grabbed me and threw me under her legs. Her whole life was her husband and her child. She took care of the house, She made sure everybody was happy.”
Gail Leslie Kaufman was born Nov. 9, 1943, in Manhattan. She grew up in Briarwood, Queens, and graduated from Richmond Hill High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Queens College.
She met Richard Arthur Shapiro, who had just returned to New York from a stint with the Army Reserves in San Antonio, at a then-popular eatery in Atlantic Beach called Jan’s while she was on spring break and studying for her midterms.
They married on Aug. 23, 1964, at Leonard’s Palazzo in Great Neck, within a year of meeting. Shapiro gave birth to her only child, Todd Shapiro, in 1965, when she was 21.
The family lived in Kew Garden Hills, Queens, initially, but moved to Lake Grove in 1972, purchasing their home for $40,000.
After the accident, she developed ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease that left her permanently disabled, Todd Shapiro said. Gail Shapiro never worked outside the home; she was a full-time mother. But she dabbled in community affairs, once successfully petitioning the village to put up a stop sign. And she traveled extensively with her salesman husband, who took frequent work trips.
He died in 2005 from a heart attack at 63.
“They had a very special relationship,” said Todd Shapiro. “She was his best friend. They loved each other. When my father died, a piece of her went with him.”
After his death, Todd Shapiro bought his mother a women’s clothing consignment store on Main Street in East Quogue and named it “Once Upon A Time In The Hamptons.”
“She would sit in a chair and say hello to everybody,” said Todd Shapiro. “She was like a princess of the Hamptons . . . She was a true Long Island stereotype. She loved to shop and she loved nice restaurants.”
In another effort to lift her spirits, her son was able to get his neighbor, the legendary pop standards crooner Tony Bennett, to visit her.
“It was one of her greatest days,” said her son. “She was so happy. It was an icon she grew up watching.”
She is survived by her son and sister Pamela Strauss, of Roslyn.
Services are set for 9 a.m. Friday at Gutterman’s, Inc., 8000 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury. Burial will follow at Beth David Cemetery, 300 Elmont Rd., Elmont, and shiva will be Saturday and Sunday, 100 Central Park South, Manhattan.