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Isidore Shapiro, ex-Nassau commissioner of mental health, dies

Isidore Shapiro served as Nassau County commissioner of

Isidore Shapiro served as Nassau County commissioner of mental health from 1972 to '92. Credit: Shapiro Family

Isidore Shapiro, a retired longtime Nassau County commissioner of mental health, died Dec. 27 in his assisted living facility in Tucson, Arizona. He was 101.

The cause of death was most likely a heart attack while he was convalescing from a cracked vertebra, said his daughter, Eve Shapiro.

Shapiro, who lived in Island Park and later Mineola, served as the department commissioner from 1972 to 1992 through both Republican and Democratic administrations. He is believed to have been the longest-serving Nassau mental health commissioner, family members said.

Shapiro also was an official and onetime president of the New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors.

When he retired in 1992, Shapiro told Newsday that one of his key achievements was the emergency ambulance system he helped develop to assist people in psychiatric distress, combining the efforts of police, the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and the Nassau County Medical Center.

"Isidore was one of the most ethical, consistently kind and constructive people I have known," said Peter Freed, the former counsel to the mental hygiene conference, noting Shapiro’s survival in both Democratic and Republican administrations in the often-contentious politics of Nassau. "This consistency and decency, almost paradoxically, allowed him to be reappointed as a Nassau County commissioner regardless of political friction from one administration to another."

His family remembered him as a compassionate man who lived to serve.

His son, David Shapiro, of the San Francisco area, recalled a trip he took with his father to lower Manhattan to buy light fixtures. The two were talking to a salesman when the son said he realized his father had disappeared.

"I turned around to see my dad outside on the sidewalk, comforting a vagrant who was lying there shaking with the delirium tremors," he said.

The incident was typical of the compassion his father showed in his personal life, as well as in professional life, David Shapiro said.

Eve Shapiro, of Tucson, recalled her father’s warmth and gregariousness. He easily won friends and was elected president of his senior Tucson community in his 90s, she said.

Shapiro was fond of magic, teaching tricks to his children and grandchildren and continuing that interest, joining a group studying magic in Tucson in his later years, Eve Shapiro said.

"Izzy loved music, magic, cribbage, his computer, The New Yorker, chopped liver on challah, ice cream, his family and most of all his beautiful and brilliant wife of over 70 years, Goldie," a granddaughter, Rachel Shapiro of Chicago, said in remarks prepared for an obituary.

Goldie Shapiro, a psychotherapist, died in October, two months before her husband, said David Shapiro. Goldie Shapiro was 93.

His mother and father had "an immediate attraction … love at first sight" when they were set up on a double date by a friend at the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1949, David Shapiro said.

Isidore Shapiro was born in Philadelphia but his family moved to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, where he attended high school, his son said. His father, Samuel, was a tailor, and his mother Miriam, or Mini, was a housewife.

Shapiro served in the Army from 1942 to 1946, partly building hospital units on the island of Tinian in preparation for massive casualties expected from the invasion of Japan.

In the Army, Shapiro also served as a psychological assistant in a unit that cared for soldiers who had psychiatric illnesses, according to his resume.

After the war, Shapiro first worked for a Jewish cultural group and then went to New York University, where he got an undergraduate degree, and then to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a master's degree in social work.

That degree led to a career in social work, specializing in psychological issues, first as a case worker and then as an administrator — with one year from 1955 to 1956 when he worked as a probation officer for New York City court system.

Before Shapiro became Nassau County mental health commissioner, he served as head of the Queens County Mental Health Society and director of the Peninsula Child Guidance Center in Hewlett and Cedarhurst, his family said.

In addition to his children and Rachel Shapiro, he is survived by two other granddaughters, Miriam and Ruthie; a grandson, Ben; and a great-granddaughter Dahlia Goldie.

Shapiro’s family plans a service on Zoom in the near future.

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