William James Leahy, a longtime Port Authority officer involved in the rescue and recovery efforts after the 9/11 attacks, was a straight-up, “John Wayne type of guy” who was also caring, funny and loyal, family and friends said.
“He was a straight shooter. You never had to guess whether he liked you or not,” said Dante Castro-Recio, 57 of Massapequa, a fellow police officer who worked with Leahy for more than two decades at the Port Authority Police Department. “If he liked you, you’d know it. If he got a problem with you, he wouldn’t hide it.”
Leahy, of Levittown, died Thursday of cancer, his family said. He was 49.
Leahy worked for a year with the NYPD, then joined the Port Authority in 1993 and worked in the agency’s marine, cargo and heavy weapons units and the plainclothes unit at Kennedy Airport, according to Lenis Rodrigues, a Port Authority spokeswoman.
He took his work seriously but also did it with a sense of humor, Castro-Recio said.
“He would say a lot of funny things without smiling. He’s that type of guy, you know,” he said. “If I had to describe him to anybody, you can describe him as a John Wayne type of guy. … Although he came off a little rough, there was definitely a soft side of him.”
During his 26-year career at the Port Authority, Leahy participated in the efforts after 9/11. Castro-Recio, who was also part of the rescue and recovery team, said they spent days going through the rubble, looking for survivors and trying to recover any human remains.
“He didn’t view himself as a hero in any way,” Castro-Recio said. “He was a very modest person.”
Born in the Bronx, Leahy grew up in Hicksville, attended Hicksville High School and had a close relationship with his family. His family later moved to Suffolk County.
“He loved his family. He loved his community,” said his mother, Kathleen Leahy, of Miller Place. “He called me every day. … There wasn’t a day he didn’t call.”
During their daily conversations, his parents said, they talked about everything from politics to sports. Leahy was a big fan of the New York Yankees, Jets, Rangers and Knicks, but “not the Mets,” said his father, William Leahy, of Miller Place.
“He was rough and tough but had the biggest heart around,” his father said. “The day he became a police officer, we were so proud. We couldn’t be prouder.”
Leahy’s sister, Theresa Svab, of Griswold, Connecticut, described him as reliable.
“He was a very strong man, very loyal. He’s a good guy all around,” she said in a phone interview, choking up as she spoke. “I always knew he’d be there for me.”
Leahy is survived by his parents and sister. Services were held Saturday and Sunday at Charles J. O'Shea Funeral Home in East Meadow. A Mass was offered at noon on Monday at St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Sound Beach, followed by burial at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale.