Robert A. Fabian, a skilled mechanical engineer, athlete and bandleader who entertained at hundreds of Long Island weddings and was a civic pioneer during the early years of Commack’s postwar suburban boom, died Oct. 9 of natural causes at the age of 91.
Moving to Commack in 1954, on the cusp of a midcentury growth spurt that saw population rise from under 1,000 to nearly 40,000 over two decades, Fabian led formation of a Little League and other local organizations while fronting musical groups for more than two decades in receptions at a popular Huntington Station catering hall.
“He was a leader,” said his brother, Ray Williamson of Baiting Hollow. “A natural.”
Born in Queens in 1924 and raised by a bilingual Italian-American single mother, Fabian joined the Navy in 1941 and received his GED while he worked as an aviation mechanic at the Naval Air Station in Patuxent, Maryland, through the war years.
After the war, drafting skills he learned in the service helped him get work with J.A. Maurer Co., an Astoria camera business, obtaining a practical engineering license and starting a career that led to two Long Island companies — Fairchild Camera, and then Photronics in Hauppauge, where he helped develop Apache helicopter sighting systems.
But for Fabian, the career was only part of the story.
Married to his childhood sweetheart, Ann, in 1946, he started a large family that would eventually number eight children. To supplement his income he turned to sports — coaching boxers at a club in Queens, and playing quarterback for a semipro football team — and music.
A drummer who also sang and played vibes and bass fiddle, Fabian became one of three “house” bandleaders at the Huntington Town House, a busy venue for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. Playing a variety of styles and covering artists from Benny Goodman to Lionel Hampton, he assembled bands for an estimated 2,000 events from the late 1950s to the 1980s.
The 1954 move to growing Commack provided another outlet for Fabian’s energies.
He founded the community Little League in 1957 with a few other families in his living room, and that nucleus went on to form a Democratic Club and a Social and Athletic Club for young people. A devout Catholic, Fabian also helped lay the groundwork for Christ the King parish.
In addition to being an organizer, family members recall Fabian used his musical contacts for fundraisers and community events.
“He was the go-to guy for the local dances,” Williamson said. “Everyone would bring covered dishes, kegs of beer, and the band would play. He was just a lot of fun, and he made fun. He was truly just a nice guy.”
In a lifetime of songs, Fabian’s son Dick of Rocky Point recalls one that stood out: A 1930s pop tune called “Lord You Made the Night Too Long” that entertainer Milton Berle had turned into a comedy number about bad tailoring called “Sam You Made The Pants Too Long.”
He still remembers his dad standing on the balcony of their split-level gleefully performing the number at house parties, and the family has posted on Facebook a video of Fabian belting it out again like old times in front of crowd of adoring friends at his 90th birthday party.
“His voice was shot, he was half-deaf, totally out of key, and no one cared,” the son said. “He was a real entertainer. He would tap dance between the words. You’d see what a character he was, and the people around him just loved him. He made a party a party.”
In addition to his son and wife of 70 years, Fabian is survived by sons Robert Jr. of Middle Island, Ronald of East Quogue, Rusty of Lake Ronkonkoma and Rory of St. James; daughters Robin of East Moriches and Regina of Holbrook; 21 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by daughter Renee Fabian.