Dari Schwartz, the highly regarded former chief of the Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Bureau for the Suffolk district attorney's office, died Saturday, just two months into her retirement. She was 62.
Her death left her family and former workplace reeling.
She collapsed after suffering an aneurysm at a gym near her Westhampton Beach home, said one of her sisters, Jan Dannenberg of Westport, Connecticut. Two heart attacks followed, she said.
Schwartz's friend and mentor, former Chief Assistant District Attorney Emily Constant, said Schwartz was passionate in her work and just as completely committed to her colleagues, friends and family.
"She was no holds barred," Constant said. "If she felt strongly about something, you knew it. She said often, 'I have to tell you how I feel, because someday I may not be able to,' and oh man, I didn't think that day would come so soon."
Schwartz's dedication to her job showed in many ways, colleagues said. She published articles on prosecuting child sex abuse cases and lectured on issues related to that topic locally and across the state. With Constant, she set up Suffolk's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and the county's Child Advocacy Center. In recent years, Kelly said Schwartz trained prosecutors, police and SANE nurses on how to find evidence of strangulation, a common injury in domestic violence cases.
District Attorney Timothy Sini said he was struck by how powerfully Schwartz cared, not only for the child sex crime victims and battered spouses her bureau handled, but also for the assistant district attorneys who worked for her, handling some of the most emotionally draining and legally complex cases in the office.
"The ADAs were like her children," Sini said. "It's hard for the bureau. This has hit the office very hard."
It's hit her family hard too, Dannenberg said.
"Everything she did, she did with her all, with her whole heart," Dannenberg said. "She always wanted everybody to feel so good about themselves. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. She was so driven to make the world the best place it could be, one person at a time."
That was true even when they were kids in Huntington, Dannenberg said, where Schwartz was captain of her school's gymnastics team and sought after for every sports team.
"I am still trying to wrap my head around it," said Kerriann Kelly, a close friend of Schwartz and chief of the district attorney's Homicide Bureau. After working so hard for so many years, Kelly said Schwartz was "so relaxed, so happy," after retiring in April. "It's such a pity," she said.
Friends and family said Schwartz threw herself into retirement with the same commitment she showed to work, enjoying boating and the beach with her husband, Richard Bookamer, and having more time for her voracious reading, her stepchildren, grandchildren and Addie, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Constant said one of Schwartz's retirement projects was cleaning out her closet and getting rid of her work suits.
But she stayed in close touch with her friends from work, calling often and meeting for lunch. Constant said Schwartz brought her flowers last week for her birthday, and Constant said she's drying them to preserve the memory.
Adversaries praised her, too.
"She had a good sense of fairness and balance," defense attorney Paul Gianelli said. "She will be missed."
Defense attorney Christopher Gioe, a former Suffolk prosecutor, said Schwartz always made him feel valued when he worked on cases her bureau handled, and her lessons in how to organize a case have remained with him.
Her obsessive preparation served her well, Kelly said. "She would see every issue, learn every issue," Kelly said.
Constant said that before a trial, Schwartz often would research every possible legal issue that might come up in a case and have a written legal argument ready to go for every one of them.
That compulsion extended to her personal life. Dannenberg laughingly said she was both amazed and grateful to see how thorough her sister's will was.
Besides her husband and Dannenberg, Schwartz is survived by her mother, Barbara Schwartz of Centereach; another sister, Mara Einstein of Kew Gardens; two stepsons, Richard Bookamer Jr. of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Bryan Bookamer of Westhampton; a stepdaughter, Michele Doyle of Southampton; five grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
Schwartz's body was cremated. A memorial service will take place 11 a.m. on July 17 at the Westhampton Bath and Tennis Club.