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Joan Reiter and Leslie Gonzalez: Mother and daughter were defined by strength 

Joan Reiter, a Great Neck resident, worked at

Joan Reiter, a Great Neck resident, worked at the Ronald McDonald House for more than 40 years.    Credit: Lori Birnbach

Leslie Gonzalez and her mother, Joan Reiter, shared a remarkable strength they carried with them through many of life's trials.

The two died within days of each other from complications of COVID-19: Gonzalez, 73, on April 27, and Reiter, 96, on May 4.

It was a heartbreak that daughter and granddaughter Lori Birnbaum endured by remembering the unconditional love and dedication the two women had for their family.

“My mother will be remembered as a strong woman who tried to take care of the world,” said Birnbach, adding that her grandmother also lived with those same loving and caring virtues. “My grandmother was my best friend.”

Born on May 27, 1946, Gonzalez was the elder of two children. She married at 18 and raised four children: Birnbach, twin daughters and a son. She later became a grandmother to six and great grandmother to one.

Gonzalez, of Bethpage, was a records supervisor in a social services department  for 30 years, but her legacy was the love and care she gave her children and grandchildren.

“My mother was a very strong, tough lady. My sisters were born prematurely, and my brother was a quadriplegic from 1988 to 1997 after he broke his neck in a swimming pool accident,” said Birnbach, of Bethpage. “She lived by the motto ‘God grant me the serenity.’”

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Reiter, who lived in Great Neck, had two children; Leslie, and a son, Brian. A widow at 49, she never remarried but instead filled her life with acts of charity.

“That woman would give you the shirt off her back, she would give you anything,” said Birnbach, who needed an extra pair of hands after her son was born with a heart condition. “She was there every step of the way. The day I brought my son home from the hospital, she bought a week’s worth of groceries, made us dinner and helped take care of the baby. She was an extraordinary lady.”

Reiter adored her time at the Ronald McDonald House, where she worked for more than 40 years until her 85th birthday.

“Ronald McDonald House was her passion. She truly loved all children, especially her grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Birnbach said. “They used to run around the assisted living home together.”

Among the fond memories of her grandmother, Birnbach recalls special trips into Manhattan for her birthday.

“I was the oldest grandchild, and, on my birthday, we would always go into the city. We did that every year until her 80s when it became too much for her,” Birnbach said. “She was also a fantastic cook and the best soup maker. I requested her split-pea soup all the time.”

One characteristic of both her mother and grandmother will always stand out to Birnbach, and it’s something she hopes to achieve.

“I hope to one day have their strength,” she said.

Gonzalez is also survived by another daughter, Annette Gonzalez, as well as her grandchildren William, Alexander, Jesse, Nicholas and Jennifer; and great-grandson Chad. She is preceded in death by her daughter Amy Steinman, son Carl Gonzalez and granddaughter Victoria.

Besides her granddaughter, Reiter is survived by her son Brian Reiter, her other granddaughters  Annette Gonzalez and Alice Sautner, five great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Carlton.

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