Thomas E. Van Wagner, a former Long Islander who dedicated himself to helping others in recovery and treatment for alcoholism, died of complications after a fall in Sarasota, Florida, on Monday. He was 90.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924 and a graduate of St. Francis Preparatory School there, Van Wagner was in the Army's 29th Infantry Division during World War II in France, Holland and Germany, where he was wounded in 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge, said his son, John Van Wagner of Phoenix.
Thomas Van Wagner and his first wife, Marie, whom he met in Brooklyn, moved to Valley Stream in 1950, where he went to work for a series of insurance companies.PhotosRecent notable deaths See alsoSee more LI, U.S. obits
In March 1968, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and became sober for the remaining 47 years of his life, his son said.
That began his lifelong dedication to helping others in their recovery and treatment. He was on the board of directors of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and past president and founder of Friends of the Council, which raised funds for the council.
In 1984, Thomas Van Wagner was elected to the board of directors of the New York State Council on Alcoholism and was co-chairman of the finance committee. He became president of the board in 1986.
He was also instrumental in the 1973 founding of Veritas Villa, a substance abuse rehabilitation facility in upstate Kerhonkson, according to his daughter, Barbara Van Wagner of East Rockaway.
In 1994, entering his 70s, an age when many would be thinking of retirement, he founded his own successful insurance agency in Bay Shore, specializing in liability insurance for those in the substance-abuse field, his daughter said.
He moved to West Islip in 1975, where he lived until six years ago, when his second wife, Rose, died.
John Van Wagner recalled his father as having a great sense of humor and as the sort of person who "would treat the CEO of a Fortune 500 company the same as a custodian." He also loved to talk about his four children, he said.
Sobriety remained a lifelong resolution, his son said. Even as he was in pain from a back injury from his fall, he told the doctors he was leery of taking pain medication because he was a recovering alcoholic, John Van Wagner said.
In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by daughters Kathleen Young of London and Jean Signore of West Hempstead; his sister, Eleanor Nace of Falmouth, Massachusetts; and a granddaughter.
A wake was held Friday at Krauss Funeral Home in Franklin Square. A Mass was said Saturday at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Franklin Square. He was buried at St. Joseph Cemetery in Babylon.
The family asked that donations in his memory be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, via woundedwarriorproject.org.