Patricia Birbiglia's vocation for helping the disabled appeared at an early age, those who knew the Bellmore woman said.
While in high school, the New Hyde Park native began volunteering at Abilities Inc., the Albertson organization where she ended up working for her entire adult career.
Birbiglia, 64, of Bellmore, died June 12 after the pancreatic cancer she'd fought for years spread to her lungs, said her husband, Robert Birbiglia.
Family said Patricia Birbiglia's illness finally forced her to leave her job a few years ago, after she'd already battled back from a first bout with cancer and a 2003 car crash that killed her best friend and left her having to learn how to walk again.
Her daughter, Dana Dombrowski, 33, of Trumbull, Connecticut, said her mother was determined to keep helping other people while facing her own physical challenges.
"She spent her whole life working with people with disabilities and there she was, learning to walk again," Dombrowski said. "She said 'I have to go back. I have to keep working.' "
Birbiglia graduated from New Hyde Park Memorial High School in 1968, her daughter said, and received an associate degree from Nassau Community College.
Birbiglia last worked as transition services coordinator at Abilities Inc. -- part of The Viscardi Center -- and devoted much of her energy during her decades there to helping young people, according to the organization's chief operating officer, Jessica Swirsky.
She said Birbiglia truly believed people with disabilities should be treated as equals and she "threw herself at everything she took on."
Jim Molle of Glen Cove, who coordinates an Abilities Inc. program for at-risk students that Birbiglia developed, said she became not just his mentor but also a friend.
"She called things as they were and she helped you solve your problems," he said. " . . . She helped thousands of people get careers."
Birbiglia was recognized by New York State's 19th Assembly District with a 2012 Women of Distinction Award. At the time, Viscardi officials credited her with creating and putting into action numerous programs that transformed the lives of disabled people.
When she wasn't working, Birbiglia liked to garden and cook. Her talents were such in the kitchen that her husband of 38 years said he wouldn't go to any Italian restaurants because her home cooking was better.
Loved ones said Birbiglia, who grew up as the second oldest of eight siblings, was devoted to her family most of all.
In 2010, Birbiglia battled through her first cancer diagnosis after learning she was going to become a grandmother to now 4-year-old Madison.
"My mom said, 'Now I really have to fight because I want to meet my granddaughter,' " Dombrowski recalled.
Birbiglia's daughter said her mother later battled through a cancer relapse and also lived to see the birth of her second granddaughter, Avery, now 2.
In addition to her husband, daughter and granddaughters, Birbiglia is survived by a son, Bryan, of Bellmore.
Services were held at Saint Barnabas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Bellmore. She was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.