Cirilo Negron, a longtime Elmont resident who worked his way out of poverty as a grocer, taxi driver, and hospital orderly after moving to New York from Puerto Rico, died on Dec. 5. He was 82.
Negron was a beloved figure in Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he first settled in New York and where he owned a bodega. His generosity toward his customers there earned him the nickname “Papi,” said Nancy Negron, one of his two daughters.
“He was ‘Papi’ to everybody,” she said. “Once you came over, he sucked you in. You were almost instant family.”
Negron was born in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, in 1934 — the eldest of seven children. He did not complete primary school, and after years of struggling to support himself on menial odd jobs, in 1957 he came alone to New York, where he worked stocking the shelves of bodegas — first in Bedford-Stuyvesant and then in Williamsburg.
He saved the money to purchase the Williamsburg store after working there for five years, and lived in an apartment above it with his three children and his wife, Jenny Negron, who died in October.
“He usually worked seven days a week,” said his son, Ray Negron, a special consultant with the New York Yankees and the co-host of a sports radio show. “For years he went on five hours of sleep a night, tops.”
Negron’s hard work enabled him to provide not only for his family, but also for his customers and friends in the neighborhood, his family said.
“Sometimes people would come in and they would say, ‘Cirilo, I don’t have any money this week.’ And he would say, ‘Just put it in the book,’” remembered Ray Negron, who as a child worked as a delivery boy in his dad’s shop.
“He took care of the neighborhood, and so the neighborhood loved him,” he said.
Ray Negron said his father also bought baseball uniforms for a local Little League team. Cirilo Negron did not understand the sport when he arrived in New York, his son said, but he quickly became a devoted Yankees fan — especially after Ray Negron became a bat boy with the team in 1973.
“He used to love to be able to say, ‘That’s my son, the Yankee bat boy,’” Ray Negron remembered.
In 1971, with business declining, Cirilo Negron sold the Williamsburg store and began driving a yellow cab. Later, he worked as an orderly in Brooklyn Hospital Center. The family had moved to Queens in 1967, and then out to Elmont in 1987, where Negron lived until his death.
“They were the American dream,” Ray Negron said of his parents. “They both came to this country with nothing,” he said. “When they finally moved to Long Island, it was like they had moved to a castle.”
Cirilo Negron retired in 2003 to take care of his wife after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Negron was buried next to her in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale on Dec. 9. He is survived by his three children, including daughter Naomi Windischmann, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.