Former Hempstead Town Attorney Joe Ra, who worked for the town for nearly 40 years, died Tuesday of COVID-19, his family said. He was 74.
Ra was a former town councilman and worked with the town for 36 years under five different supervisors.
Town supervisors and council members described him as a monolith of institutional knowledge who helped advise elected officials about legislation and governing America’s largest township.
One of his sons, Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square), said it was always his father’s dream to run for office, which inspired his own career in government.
"I think he was a believer in public service in his career and found his calling to do good things for your community … that kind of belief that government was a place to do good for the community and help people matter in everyday life with those everyday quality-of-life issues like roads and parks," Edward Ra said.
Joe Ra started as a deputy town attorney in 1984 and also served as counsel to the town board. He served for five years as an elected town board member, from 1994 to 1999. He left his elected position to serve as the town attorney, a position he held for 21 years, town officials said.
Hempstead Town Clerk Kate Murray, who served the town for 13 years including as supervisor, said Joe Ra's legacy was the institutional knowledge of town government as he helped lead the town over four decades.
"We should all aspire to know our jobs as well as he did. He was a critical linchpin in whatever office he was running, and he showed his love for the residents of Hempstead," Murray said.
Supervisor Don Clavin, who worked with Ra for 19 years as supervisor and receiver of taxes, said the town lost a "good soul to everyone across party lines."
"He was such an icon and a wonderful sounding board and tried to steer town government the right way, and giving government to the residents," Clavin said.
Ra was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he became involved in politics as a teenager, volunteering for Republican candidates. He earned his bachelor’s and law degree from St. John’s University and moved in 1970 to Franklin Square, where he started a private law practice.
He married his wife of 35 years, Joanne, and the couple had triplets who were raised in Franklin Square, Edward Ra said.
He said he has memories of playing baseball with his father, an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan who later loved the Mets and therefore had hatred for the Yankees that spanned two teams. His father was an avid runner even after retirement, logging four to five miles at a time, and was infatuated with his grandchildren, Edward Ra said.
Joe Ra also was a leader of the Franklin Square Republican Party, entering town government in the era of Ronald Reagan and former Hempstead council members Alfonse D’Amato and Peter King. He also worked under supervisors Joe Mondello and Joseph Cairo, both later Nassau County Republican chairmen.
Cairo said the elder Ra was known for coming down the hall with Tic Tacs rattling in his pocket, never afraid to offer his advice or help in drafting legislation or volunteering for campaign events.
"His greatest accomplishment was treating the little guy the same as the big shots," Cairo said.
In addition to his son Edward, Ra is survived by his longtime companion Madeline Presta, son Joseph Ra of Garden City, daughter Jillian Ra of Franklin Square and four grandsons. He is preceded in death by his wife, Joanne.
A wake is planned for Thursday and Friday, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. both days, at Franklin Funeral Home, Franklin Square. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Catherine of Sienna Roman Catholic Church in Franklin Square.