Margaret Bermel, former top Suffolk health official, dies at 60

Margaret Brennan Bermel, a former top budget official

Margaret Brennan Bermel, a former top budget official in the Suffolk health department, who retired in April after a 28-year career, died. She was 60. (Credit: Bermel family)

Margaret Brennan Bermel, a former top budget official in the Suffolk health department, who retired in April after a 28-year career, died last week. She was 60.

Bermel, an East Patchogue resident, died Thursday at Stony Brook University Hospital after complications from surgery.

Bermel retired after eight years as director of health administrative services, overseeing a $400 million agency, which had 1,600 workers when she took the job. Because of budget woes, the department has since shrunk to fewer than 900 workers, with a budget of $300 million after layoffs, the shutdown of the county nursing home and moves to privatize county health centers.

"She steered the health department through some of its most tumultuous times, and did it with compassion, grace and dignity," said Suffolk budget director Connie Corso, adding, "She left the department in better shape than when she came in."

Bermel's health department role came after she worked for two decades in various budget and government liaison jobs in the county Labor Department and county executive's office. Just before she died, Bermel was named to the honor roll for state public health workers.

"She was a consummate career civil servant technician," said Paul Sabatino, former chief deputy county executive. "She was a solid professional; you only had to ask her a question once and you knew she would take care of it."

Bermel was also the author of "The Cancer Odyssey: Discovering Truth and Inspiration on the Way to Wellness," published in 2011. It chronicled her choices in a struggle with ovarian cancer and her research on alternatives to chemotherapy, coining the phrase "Just say no to chemo." She also maintained a website, thecancerodyssey.com.

Born in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Bermel was one of six children. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She later graduated from Hofstra University with an MBA with distinction.

She met her husband, Thomas, at the Casino restaurant at Davis Park on Fire Island in 1979. "When I first met her, her smile won me over right away," recalled Bermel. "It was love at first sight and we became an inseparable team." The couple were married for 30 years.

Bermel began work for the county in 1986 as an administrative aide in then-county executive Peter F. Cohalan's office. She later became a budget system analyst and assistant federal aid coordinator there. She moved to the Labor Department in 1993 as an intergovernmental relations coordinator and later was promoted to executive assistant for finance and administration. She transferred to the health department in April 2006, and six months later took over the department's chief fiscal job.

In addition to her husband, survivors include two brothers, Joseph Brennan of Scranton, and Michael Brennan of Boston; and two sisters, Nancy Brennan Koester and Mary Pepon, both of Scranton.

A wake will be held Tuesday at Ruland Funeral Home from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church in East Patchogue. Burial will follow at Woodland Cemetery in Bellport.

The family requests that donations in lieu of flowers be made to Marywood University, 2300 Adams Ave., Scranton, PA 18509.

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