Brigid Winters, who came to Long Island with little more than a dream and helped build a multimillion-dollar family-run sanitation business, died in her St. James home Monday after a lengthy illness. She was 71.
Her rise from 16-year-old, just-off-the-plane Irish au pair to matriarch of Westbury-based Winters Brothers Waste Systems embodied that dream.
“If you stick to it and work hard, anything’s possible,” she would tell her five children, said her son, Joseph Winters, 49, of St. James.
From the early years when the business scraped by to later years of success, she greeted everyone with, “How are you, love?”
Born to a poor fisherman in County Waterford, Ireland, Brigid Doherty was drawn to America and Elvis.
“She always told me all through her life listening to Elvis music helped her through a lot of hard times,” Joseph Winters said. “He came from nothing and he made it, and I think my mom really identified with that.”
Leaving four siblings and her father — her mother died when she was 8 — she landed in Queens and found work taking care of children in Old Westbury.
She met her husband, James Winters, while on a lunch break. Driving a garbage truck at the time, he stopped at the sight of her, got out and introduced himself. They married soon afterward, in 1964.
They became a husband-wife team building a sanitation business, with him in charge of operations and her running the office and keeping the books.
“My dad was a great businessman, but he couldn’t really have done anything without my mother,” Joseph Winters said.
They settled in St. James and raised a family as the business grew. In the early years travel was beyond their means but frequent guests from Ireland kept them in touch with their roots. Besides Elvis — who she got to see perform in the 1970s — she loved dancing to Irish music and traveling.
James Winters died in 2005 and the family sold the business for $263 million in 2007. Last year, the family bought it back and continues to provide commercial and residential trash hauling and recycling services in Long Island, the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.
Brigid died of lung disease surrounded by family, Joseph Winters said.
Survivors include four other sons, Sean, Jimmy, Michael and Andrew, all of St. James; a brother, Bill of Waterford, Ireland; sisters Ann Carey, Agnes Boyle and Betty Doherty, all of Waterford; and eight grandchildren.
Visitation will be Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at St. James Funeral Home. A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. in Sts. Philip & James Roman Catholic Church in St. James, followed by burial in St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale