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Vincent Sweeney, 88

A bright light in the community dimmed forever last week.

Vincent Sweeney died peacefully at his home in Westhampton surrounded by his adoring family on Friday, May 30.

Vince was born in Piermont, N.Y. on Sept. 17, 1925 to Robert and Theresa (nee Corrigan) Sweeney. He was the second to youngest, and sole survivor, of eight children.

After attending Rice High School in Harlem, Vince joined the Merchant Marines in 1943, setting off on what became a lifelong calling to serve his country; his faithful service was a testament to his fierce patriotic pride.

Vince went to officers’ training school in New London and was deployed to serve in World War II.  In 1966 he began moonlighting with the Military Sealift Command as a relief officer. After working as a pilot with the FDNY from the mid 1950s until his retirement in 1979, Sweeney went full time with the Military Sealift Command on their ocean-going ships. Later, when his children were grown, in 1991 he shipped off to the Persian Gulf and served as a Damage Control Officer during Desert Storm before retiring at 65.

“There was a feeling that it was our duty to protect the country,” he said, in a 2006 interview. He followed in the footsteps of a family born to serve the nation. His brother Alfie served in the United States Army; his brother Robbie and sister Peggy served in the United States Air Force and his brother Johnny was a “Navy man,” he said.

Vince was awarded a federal service award of appreciation by the United States Navy in 1991. He attended yearly gatherings of Merchant Marine veterans and was filled with tremendous pride as his legacy of service was carried on by his granddaughter Sheila, a  lieutenant in the United States Navy. He was present for the pinning ceremonies of both Sheila and her cousin Terrance Sweeney, happily passing the baton of national pride and selfless dedication to the next generation.

Reflecting on decades of devoted service to his nation, Sweeney said, “I would do it all over again, absolutely.”

Vince was married on November 22, 1947 to his first wife, Mary (nee Sheahan). A devoted family man, he was a proud patriarch to his children Patricia and Vincent, and to his grandchildren, Sheila, Sara, and Brendan.

When Mary lost her cancer battle, Vince moved to Westhampton full-time, where he was a longtime parishioner at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, a loyal member of the Knights of Columbus for 66 years, and a member of the Westhampton Yacht Squadron.

On Sept. 23, 2000, Vince married his beloved wife Alice (nee Tetrault Russell); the couple lived a love story, rich with tenderness and devotion. His granddaughter Sara said her grandfather would begin stories by calling them “BA”, or “Before Alice,” his cherished wife.Together, the couple traveled the world to destinations such as Paris  — where they attended the French Open — Italy, and Ireland. Each year, they traveled to the races at Saratoga, extending the visit to explore the natural beauty of destinations including Lake Champlain last year. Sweeney was fueled by his lifelong passion for travel, bringing home stories rich with details from his journeys to Norway and other far-flung destinations. Last year, Vince and his son traveled to the Grand Canyon, creating lifelong memories.

But no matter how far he traveled, Vince found his greatest joy and contentment in the warm gatherings he and Alice hosted for family and close friends in their Westhampton home, and in the little moments — such as bagels and the New York Times on a Sunday — that give great meaning to life. He found great enjoyment in listening to JJ Cale, Eric Clapton, and Jerry Garcia. He loved a variety of music, including traditional Irish music and classical. He was one of the New York Yankees’ biggest fans.

An avid tennis player and golfer, Vince enjoyed bike riding and walking the beach in South Carolina on yearly trips with Alice.  He was a natural storyteller, bringing to life his extraordinary experiences for rapt listeners. Loving nothing more than a good joke, he had a “killer sense of humor”, according to his family, and will always be remembered for the twinkle in his eyes and the warmth of his rich laughter as he brought smiles to everyone whose lives he blessed. Vince had a keen interest in the lives of those he loved, and reveled in hearing about their adventures and accomplishments, always encouraging young people to follow their dreams and reach for the stars.

An accomplished photographer and painter, Vince’s work was shown locally at a number of exhibits, including the East End Arts Council. He was a voracious reader, with a fervent interest in history and non-fictional accounts of World War II and other gripping battles.

Along with Alice, Vincent and Patricia, Vince is survived by his large extended family, Dawn and Scott Christ, their children Julia and Alec, George Russell and his children Brad and Brieann, and Brian and Chris Russell, and their children Liam, Matthew, Brian and Cynthia. He leaves behind a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and lifelong friends whose lives have lost a touch of luster with his loss.

Vincent Sweeney lived each day as a miracle. He will be missed always and the memory of his warm smile and rich laughter will resound forever in the hearts of the many who loved him.

Services will be held on Monday, June 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach. A funeral mass will be held at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach on Tuesday, June 3, at 11 a.m., with burial to follow at Westhampton Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; http://mskcc.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=giv_main

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