Jeffrey Ratner, a beloved educator in the Jericho school district where he was assistant principal in the high school and former principal of the Robert Seaman elementary school, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack at his Syosset home May 9. He was 71.
Ratner was described by family, friends and colleagues as a compassionate, witty man who remembered and kept in touch with his students for decades after they graduated.
“For all of the kids that he worked with, all of the staff members he worked with and all of the community members he worked with, Jeff made you believe you were the most important person in the world to him," said Jericho school Superintendent Hank Grishman. "He had an incredible knack to show his deep and sincere concern to everybody he came into contact with.”
More than 700 mourners attended Ratner’s funeral May 10 at the I.J. Morris funeral home in Dix Hills, including at least 250 current and former students, his son, Michael Ratner said. Jericho High School closed at noon that Friday to allow staff and students to attend the service, Grishman said.
“He was not just another educator passing away,” Grishman said. “This was a very, very special man.”
Ratner was born on March 17, 1948, in Queens and lived in various Queens neighborhoods while growing up, his son said. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology at Queens College, where he did postgraduate work in education and administration, his son said.
Jeff Ratner met his wife, Rita, when he was 21 and she was 19. They both were camp counselors in Queens. They were married 47 years this month, Michael Ratner said.
Jeff Ratner started his career in education as a teacher at PS 111 in Long Island City, where he worked for 14 years. He became assistant principal of PS 165 in Kew Gardens Hills, principal of PS 21 in Whitestone and then principal of IS 250 in Flushing.
“He loved teaching. He loved students. He loved education. He was a people person,” his son said.
Jeff Ratner moved to Jericho in the mid-1990s when Grishman hired him to reopen the closed Seaman Elementary School by September 1996. “He did an absolutely incredible job opening a brand new school and staffing a brand new school,” Grishman said.
Lifelong friend Martin Weissman said he met Ratner playing handball in a Queens public school yard 60 years ago, and their lives “personally and professionally intertwined” ever since.
They started teaching the same year in the same school; both moved into administration about the same time and Weissman became principal at Jericho’s George A. Jackson Elementary School two years after Ratner became Seaman’s principal. Both Weisman and Ratner retired as prinicipals about 10 years ago.
Ratner “modeled how to be a compassionate loving friend to anyone,” Weissman said. “That modeling was my inspiration to do everything I accomplished. He was an incredible mentor. Our connection was so strong it was like having a brother. There’s a void that I don’t think will ever be filled.”
Grishman said he called Ratner two years ago when there was an opening for an assistant principal at the high school. “I said, Jeff would you do me a favor and help us out a little bit?’” Ratner was working in that position up to the day of his death.
Ratner’s son said, “He was a wonderful, wonderful human being. He was kind, compassionate, selfless. He went above and beyond, not only for (his family) but for virtually anybody.”
Immediately after the funeral service, Jeff Ratner was buried at the New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon.
He is survived by his wife, Rita, his son Michael of Roslyn, three grandchildren, Ryan, Addison, Landon, all of Roslyn, and stepbrother Stuart Ratner of Detroit.