George Rice, whose legal career centered on the nonprofit health care industry, was a man dedicated to serving others, and a driving force behind the development of a South Setauket "continuing care" retirement community.
"He was really a pioneer to bringing this kind of retirement community to this area," said Bob Caulfield, president and CEO of Jefferson’s Ferry, the South Setauket retirement community that Rice championed in the mid-1990s.
"Jefferson’s Ferry is a continuing care retirement community. They call it a life plan community," Caulfield said in an interview, adding that the facility now has some 400 residents aged 65 and over.
He said it involves a "lifetime guarantee of care," providing independent and assisted living on one campus. Caulfield said while other surrounding states had such developments, New York hadn't yet embraced the concept when Rice began talking about developing one on Long Island.
"By the time Jefferson's Ferry got to be born — we opened in 2001 — we were only the fifth in the state," Caulfield said.
Rice, 75, died of natural causes Oct. 15 at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.
According to Caulfield, Rice brought the concept to St. Charles and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. Both sponsored the retirement community's development, Caulfield said.
"[Rice] said this was a way for us to retain and keep seniors here on Long Island," he said.
Rice served as chair of Jefferson's Ferry board of directors from its founding in 1997 until 2019, according to Caulfield.
"He stepped down as chair but continued on the board and continued on other committees," Caulfield said. "He felt it was necessary to step back and let other members move forward."
He remembered Rice "as a man of high integrity. A man always looking to serve others. … He was always focused on the people that we were serving and making sure we do that very well."
John R. Sini, a Jefferson's Ferry board member and treasurer, said in a statement: "George was one of the best board chairs I’ve ever worked with. He would give his input from a point of leadership, but only after he had allowed every board member his or her say. While he was without question the board leader, he did not dominate the board, nor did he overstep the authority of the board or interfere with management in areas outside of the board’s purview. He was warm and giving; a most special person."
Rice, a former partner at the Garden City law firm Spellman Gibbons Polizzi Truncale & Trentacoste LLP, was involved in the representation of many not-for-profit sponsors who have planned, constructed, occupied and managed more than 1,000 units of subsidized and/or affordable housing, according to a Jefferson's Ferry statement.
George Francis Rice Jr., a resident of Setauket for more than 40 years, was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and moved to Central Islip with his family at age 5. He graduated from Seton Hall Catholic High School in Patchogue in 1962, Niagara University in 1966 and obtained his law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1969, his wife, Pam, said in a statement.
In 1970, Rice was selected as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow, a prestigious national fellowship in which attorneys commit to a year of social service representing disadvantaged clients in communities across the nation.
Pam Rice said, "George was a very gentle man, easy going and caring. We were married 53 years and dated from high school. He was a wonderful father to our three daughters and loved being 'Poppe' to our eight grandchildren. He was very interested in senior care living."
She said she has "received so many beautiful letters" from Jefferson's Ferry residents.
Besides his wife, Rice is survived by three daughters and their husbands, Erin and Craig Keanna of Guilford, Connecticut, Kara and Jamie Proctor of Huntington and Darby and Dave Mingey of Pelham in Westchester County; a brother, Bill Rice of Cambria, California; a sister, Joan Rice Cuomo of Huntington; and eight grandchildren.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family plans a memorial service at a later date.