Richard Brzozinski took pride in the little things that often made a big difference.
A veteran Long Island Rail Road conductor on the Babylon line, Brzozinski made a habit of learning the names of all of his regular passengers and their spouses. He'd arrive to work every morning in a freshly pressed uniform. And Brzozinski would always ensure that a seat was saved for his elderly passengers.
"It's just the way he was," Brad Brzozinski, 55, said of his father, who died Nov. 19 at his home in West Islip after a three-year battle with heart disease. He was 78.
Richard Brzozinski was remembered as a man of many families: an omnipresent face on the LIRR for 36 years; a fixture in the Lindenhurst neighborhood where he was born and raised; and later in the West Islip community where he raised his own family. He was also a popular youth wrestling coach in Bay Shore and a familiar face at Central Islip High School, where his two sons, Brad Brzozinski of Blue Point and Rick Brzozinski, 52, of Central Islip, teach and coach wrestling.
Brad said his father was a source of comfort to his young athletes, particularly those without a father figure in their life. After a difficult loss, Brzozinski was always there with a supportive word, a pat on the back and a package of Life Savers he would distribute to the wrestlers, his son said.
"Dad came to every wrestling match and really became a father figure to these kids," he said.
Richard Brzozinski was born Feb. 22, 1941, the oldest of five children, to Mildred Brzozinski, a homemaker, and John Brzozinski, an LIRR conductor. Family members said Brzozinski was a natural athlete, serving as the captain of the Lindenhurst High School football and wrestling teams.
After graduating from high school, Brzozinski joined the LIRR, working for a period with his father and younger brother, Jack Brzozinski, a retired LIRR engineer.
During his nearly four decades on the job, Brzozinski became a popular figure with LIRR passengers — many of whom wrote to MTA management to offer praise for his professionalism.
"He greets you with a big smile and a pleasant hello before requesting to see your ticket," wrote Sandra Barnaby of Copiague in a 1997 letter to LIRR management. "He has a unique way of making each passenger feel special."
Another passenger, W.F. Ferry of East Meadow, wrote to then-LIRR president Francis Gabreski in 1980 that Brzozinski is "always immaculately groomed; suit always neat and pressed — shoes shined and hair neat and clean."
News reports show Brzozinski on two occasions helped save the lives of passengers who had gone into cardiac arrest while on the train. In one 1980 incident, Brzozinski and a ticket collector performed CPR on an unresponsive woman for 15 frantic minutes before she was revived and taken to a hospital in Jamaica.
Anthony Simon, a former LIRR conductor and the general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the union that represents LIRR conductors, said Brzozinski was a model employee.
"Richie was always a professional and always demanded perfection from his co-workers," said Simon, who learned from Brzozinski when he a young LIRR conductor. "He wore his uniform impeccably and made sure his crew members did the same. He prioritized the safety and service to our customers, led by example, and received the respect of everyone he overlapped with because of those principles."
Richard Brzozinski met his wife, then Mary Zilinski, at a Polish dance in 1962, and the couple soon married.
"It was a match made in heaven," said Brad Brzozinski. "It was love at first sight. You never saw one apart from the other."
The family moved to West Islip in 1972 and Richard Brzozinski soon became involved with Bay Shore Kid Wrestling, the state's first youth wrestling program. Brzozinski would serve as a coach for more than 30 years alongside the program's founder, Jumper Leggio.
"Richard was like a second father to me," said Leggio's son, Guy Leggio, a longtime East Islip wrestling coach. "He was always there after a loss and would make you feel better. … He was one of the greatest people I've ever met."
Brzozinski retired from the LIRR in 1999 and would live part-time in South Florida with his wife. He was also an avid golfer, a seasoned poker player and a regular at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in West Islip.
He is survived by his wife; two sons; daughter-in-law Debra; brother Jack of Babylon; sisters Joanne and Linda, both of Lindenhurst, and Sharon of Babylon; and grandchildren Jack and Jenna.
With Alfonso Castillo