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Volunteer firefighter Richard J. Vella, 66

Richard J. Vella died on July 3 in

Richard J. Vella died on July 3 in his home in West Babylon. He was 66. Credit: Handout

Richard J. Vella distinguished himself through service, both to his community and his family. A firefighter for more than 25 years, he served as chief of the West Babylon Fire Department and chairman of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York.

He died on July 3 in his home in West Babylon. He was 66.

Vella met his wife of 44 years, Judith, on a blind date at a drive-in movie. Soon afterward, in April 1969, they married, and began working together at the Merganthaler Linotype Co.

She said she urged her husband to get involved in the community, telling him, "Join anything." Driven by what family members describe as a passion for helping others, Vella joined the local fire department. He rose up the ranks as his family grew, raising three children.

A die-hard Yankees fan and full-time security guard, Vella also coached his son Keith's Little League teams, as well as soccer and softball at Hauppauge Junior High School.

In recent years, Keith Vella, who joined the fire department at 17, said he would drive his father -- ailing from a heart condition -- to firefighter association meetings as far away as Albany or Syracuse, so he could keep serving his community.

"Everything he did, he did passionately," Judith Vella said. "He gave his all -- not just for the fire department, but for his family."

Gerard Owenberg, who joined the department the same year as Richard Vella, said he respected Vella's leadership abilities. "He would put ideas out there, and he was never afraid to fight for them," he said.

Besides his wife and son, Vella is also survived by his sister, Charlene, of Holbrook, and by his daughters, Tara and Melissa, both of West Babylon.

The funeral Mass was held July 8 at Our Lady of Grace Church in West Babylon. He is buried at North Babylon Cemetery in Babylon.

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