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Helen Ambro, who had career in politics, dies

When Helen Ambro learned that her son, Richard, after years of waiting, had been nominated Tuesday to become a Suffolk County Court judge, the longtime East Northport resident was ecstatic, her son said.

"She was very excited, she was very happy," he said.

The Ambro family's joy was short-lived: Helen Ambro died of heart failure Wednesday morning at the St. James Plaza Nursing Facility in St. James, where she had lived for several years. She was 82.

"It's been a roller coaster of a 24 hours," said Richard Ambro, of Wading River. "From one of the best days in my life to one of the hardest."

Helen Ambro was the former wife of the late Jerome Ambro, who was Huntington town supervisor, then a congressman from 1975 to 1981.

Born in Brooklyn, Helen Ambro carved her own place in politics and public service, serving as Huntington's personnel director from 1978 to 1981, then assistant to the deputy commissioner of the state Division of Human Rights from 1981 to 1985. She ran unsuccessfully for Huntington town clerk in the early 1980s, Richard Ambro said.

She was born into politics: Her grandfather, John H. McCooey Sr., was a Brooklyn Democratic leader, and her father, John H. McCooey Jr., was a State Supreme Court justice from 1931 to 1948.

"Despite that kind of impressive family history, she was an unassuming, down-to-earth woman with a razor-sharp wit and a great sense of humor," he said.

Helen McCooey attended the Berkeley Carroll School, a private academy in Park Slope, where as the sports editor she scored an interview with Babe Ruth in 1948. The then-retired Yankees great gave her an autographed photo signed, "To my little pal, Helen McCooey, Babe Ruth."

The courtship of Helen McCooey and Jerome A. Ambro was fraught with political intrigue - his father, Assemb. Jerome G. Ambro of Brooklyn, had bucked the McCooey political machine, Richard Ambro said.

Their 1955 wedding "was a real Romeo and Juliet story," Richard Ambro said. "There was some tension when they got married."

The couple divorced in 1977. Jerome A. Ambro died in 1993.

Richard Ambro said Gov. David A. Paterson called him Tuesday to tell him he had been nominated to fill the County Court vacancy created when his boss, Justice C. Randall Hinrichs, was elected last year to the State Supreme Court. Ambro has been Hinrichs' principal law clerk since 2002. His nomination is subject to confirmation in the State Senate.

Ambro's brother, David Ambro of Northport, is a news editor of the Smithtown News and the Northport Observer.

In addition to her sons, Helen Ambro is survived by her sister, Ann Driscoll, of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; a daughter, Cathleen DeRolf, of Boulder, Colo., and seven grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Wading River. Ambro will be cremated.

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