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Kathleen Winkler, cancer survivor who became a voice of wisdom, dies at 68

Kathleen Winkler on her wedding day in 1974.

Kathleen Winkler on her wedding day in 1974. Credit: John Warren Wright Studios Inc.

To co-workers, Kathleen Winkler was known as “the candy lady.”

Her actual title at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital was manager of patients accounts, but staff knew they could go to her office to grab candy from her always-stocked bowl, or to find a listening ear for their problems.

Winkler, who lived in Massapequa, worked in the hospital registrar’s office for 35 years until she had a heart attack last September. 

She died Jan. 24 after suffering a second heart attack. She was 68.

Her son Daniel Winkler, 33, of Tucson, Arizona, said that while he knew that his mother was the “happy nice lady that everybody loved at the hospital,” he didn’t truly see her impact until hundreds of people from the hospital, including former patients, attended her wake at Massapequa Funeral Home’s South Chapel on Jan. 28 and 29.

Kathleen, known as Kathy to her friends, had a “magic quality” and wisdom that could help people get through any problems, he said.

“Almost everyone that I spoke to from her work would go to my mom for encouragement or sympathy and would leave feeling revitalized and fresh and ready to face whatever challenge they were dealing with,” he said, adding that the problems she helped people with ranged from arguments with co-workers to terminal cancer diagnoses.

She pulled wisdom from her own experience with cancer, having been diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006. The prognosis she received was grim. Doctors told her she probably wouldn’t live more than a couple of years, but in 2007 she entered remission, living a full life for more than a decade longer. 

She became an active member of the Long Island Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, adding to the long list of charitable causes she supported, which included the ASPCA, animal rescue, Boys Town and Defenders of Wildlife, among many others.

On her days off she often attended local charity auctions, where she would bid on items that she didn’t necessarily want or need, just to help the events reach their fundraising goals. She once won a kayak, though she had never been kayaking or shown any interest in the activity, Winkler said.

She ended up donating the kayak, and most of her other winning bid items, to local charities including the Lupus Foundation of America.

Her husband of 45 years, Ed Winkler, would often accompany her to the auctions and said she tended to be the top bidder at most events. 

The pair met as teens at a school dance in College Point, Queens, where they both grew up. She was a student at St. Agnes Academic High School, and he went to Flushing High School. 

The first time he saw his future wife she was playing softball with a group of boys and he was impressed by her skill in playing first base, he said. He asked her to dance the cha-cha with him at a Holy Cross High School dance both had attended with friends because he thought she was pretty.

They dated and eventually married in 1974. Kathy earned her bachelor's degree in business administration from Baruch College and began a career at American Express in 1968 as a clerk, quickly working her way up the ladder to become vice president of product development and product management before she left the company in 1983 when she became pregnant with her first child, Christopher, who now lives in Massapequa. 

She worked part-time jobs until she began working as a registrar in the emergency room of Booth Memorial Hospital in 1986, which later became NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital.

She worked nights in the hospital, getting home at 3 a.m. or later, but still made sure to attend PTA events and every one of her three children’s school plays and major sporting events. She also taught catechism at St. Mel Catholic Church in Flushing for years until the family moved from Queens to Massapequa in 2000. 

“She was a smart, brilliant, caring, understanding person that loved her job,” Ed Winkler said, adding that she had put off retiring more than once. 

She had a good sense of humor and could easily fill a room with laughter with her jokes.

“As Jimmy Stewart said, it was a wonderful life with me and my wife,” he said. 

Every holiday or special event, Daniel said his mother’s family and friends could expect a card and a gift or basket from his mom. If he ever told his mom he tried a new candy he liked, he could expect bags of it in his mailbox a few days later. 

More than anything, Daniel said his mom taught him, “Whenever the world is seeming like it’s a little more serious than we think it should be, that is the perfect time to laugh and remember that human life is very precious,” he said. “We have this amazing ability as humans to care for each other and be kind to each other and how amazing the world could be if we just showed a little bit of kindness and compassion.”

In addition to her husband and sons, Winkler is survived by her daughter, Amanda Winkler of Massapequa; brother, William Mucha of Hernando, Florida; and sister, Eileen Connolly of Jupiter, Florida.

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