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Tom Toy, maritime lawyer who battled polio and gave back to the community, dies at 83

Tom Toy, maritime lawyer and longtime Rockville Centre

Tom Toy, maritime lawyer and longtime Rockville Centre resident, has died at the age of 83. Credit: Margaret Goodwin

As a child, Tom Toy defied the odds, beating a disease that doctors told him would paralyze him for life.

For the rest of his years, his family said, he gave back, returning the blessing that he felt he had received.

At 13, Toy was diagnosed with polio and placed in an iron lung. Paralyzed from the neck down, doctors told his parents he would never walk again, his family said.

But within a year, Toy recovered. He went on to become a maritime lawyer, father of four, and someone with a deeply charitable presence in Rockville Centre, where he lived for 31 years.

"He felt very blessed because he was able to function, worked in the city, took that train, and did all that," said Pam Toy of Oceanside, his wife of 55 years. "When he was younger, he coached the kids' soccer team and would run around the neighborhood trying to stay fit."

Toy died Oct. 14 at his home in Oceanside after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, his family said. He was 83.

"He was big-hearted," said brother Christopher Toy, 69, of Manhattan. "He was not a bully, which a lot of older brothers are. He was willing to play with us down at our level."

Although neck surgery and post-polio syndrome confined Toy to a wheelchair for parts of the last 15 years of his life, he continued to help his family, and others in need.

"I got married in 2010 and he wheeled [with] me halfway down the aisle, but he was able to get up and walk me the rest of the way to my husband and shake his hand," said daughter Margaret Goodwin, 41, of Oceanside. "That was a big deal. He was always a fighter."

Born Sept. 27, 1937 in Manhattan, Toy was the oldest of four children. He spent part of his childhood living in Oyster Bay, as well as Manhattan and New Jersey, and attended high school at The Hill School, a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

Toy worked full time at a New Jersey department store to put himself through Seton Hall University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and was vice president of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. He then earned a law degree from St. John’s University.

While in college, Toy achieved the rank of first lieutenant in the Army ROTC but never served in active combat due to his childhood bout with polio, his family said.

After clerking for the maritime law firm Hill Rivkins & Hayden LLP in law school, Toy was offered a job and spent the majority of his more than 35-year career working at the firm’s offices at 90 West St. in Manhattan, across the street from the World Trade Center.

On 9/11, Toy was on the subway headed to work when the towers were attacked. The subway was diverted and he never made it to the office, which was destroyed, his family said.

Toy was a devout Catholic who always wanted to give back to the community. He and his wife taught Pre-Cana, Catholic marital training, for 20 years at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. After his daughter, Betsy Toy-Schowerer, died of leukemia in 1993, Toy became heavily involved in the St. Agnes blood drive, eventually running it with his wife. He also shaved his head multiple times for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research.

"He was a very giving man, who wanted to give as much time as he could to help other people," said son Robert Toy, 53, of Valley Stream.

Toy was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, achieving the rank of fourth-degree knight in 2015.

Toy, who coached and was on the committee of the Rockville Centre Soccer Club in the late 1970s and early 1980s, loved trains, memorizing all the routes and timetables for the LIRR and the New York City subway system. Building model train layouts was a hobby that kept him busy for hours with his grandchildren, his family said.

In addition to his wife, daughter, son, and brother, Toy is survived by son Tom Toy Jr. and his wife Jill of Oceanside, daughter-in-law Josephine Toy of Valley Stream, son-in-law Craig of Oceanside, brother Peter Toy and sister Bonnie Audrain, both of Georgia, and six grandchildren. He is predeceased by daughter Betsy Toy-Schowerer and granddaughter Emma-Méabh Goodwin.

Toy was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, his family said.

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