FDNY/Blooming Grove Beloved Fire Chief Laid to Rest in Washingtonville
Over 1,000 at Ray Phillips’ Funeral
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Route 208 in Washingtonville was closed to traffic and a sea of dress blues surrounded the St. Mary’s parking lot on Feb. 1 as over 1,000 firefighters, police officers, and civilians turned out for the funeral of Ray Phillips, a South Blooming Grove Fire Department past chief and retired firefighter at FDNY Rescue 3, who passed away unexpectedly at his home on Barnes Road on Jan. 27.
The Blooming Grove Police Department, South Blooming Grove and Washingtonville Fire Departments, and Blooming Grove Ambulance had rushed to his house that day while those off-duty came to assist, and State Police and New Windsor Ambulance provided emergency escort services as the first responders, many of whom knew Ray personally, brought him to the hospital. So many answered the call that day that his close friend John Salka, a retired FDNY Battalion Chief and current Chief of South Blooming Grove Fire Department, said in his eulogy, “Everyone worked so hard and so long to hold on to Ray, but God had a different plan.”
At the funeral, cars, trucks, and other vehicles filled the municipal lots in the village as people walked to St. Mary’s Church to pay their respects to a man many in the Washingtonville community knew through the local and FDNY fire services, local and NYPD police departments, community events, or just by enjoying conversation with him at Betty’s where he often ate with his firefighter brothers, conversing with other customers and staff as though they were family.
Hundreds of condolences poured onto area fire department social media pages as arrangements for his wake and funeral were being finalized. But so many more stood at attention and wept as Ray was carried into church, exactly as the village bell tolled high noon, to be remembered for his larger than life personality brimming with the goodness that led him to play Santa Claus year after year for the FDNY Widows & Children.
After his sons spoke fondly and with humor about their dad, Fr. Jeffrey Maurer said, “Ray was the first person I remember asking me to come to St. Mary’s. At a FDNY Holy Name Breakfast he had asked Cardinal Dolan, in characteristically bold fashion: ‘We need a priest, Fr. Keaveney’s sick…how about this guy?’ pointing to me.” Everyone in the packed church laughed at Maurer’s imitation of Ray’s Bronx accent.
John Salka said, “We’re all assembled here to say goodbye to the kindest, friendliest, happiest, funniest, most polite, gentle man that we have ever met.” After retiring from his work at “some of the best known and busiest companies in the Bronx,” Salka said Ray was heavily involved in FDNY and Orange County fire matters both large and small. “He was everywhere and knew everybody.” He was also a man who loved his wife and children and spoke of them frequently and with great pride.
Cardial Dolan sent a message to Ray’s family, which Fr. Maurer read aloud: “I cannot claim to have ‘known’ Ray, although I had the privilege of meeting him several times at FDNY Holy Name Breakfasts. Everything about his life was one of service, as Ray practiced his faith both in Church and out in the community. As a husband, father, police officer, firefighter, usher, volunteer Santa, and particularly in those dark days following 9/11, Ray constantly put others first.”
After the funeral, burial took place at St. Mary’s Cemetery followed by a gathering of his many friends and family members at the South Blooming Grove firehouse. Salka said, “Somehow Ray seems to have squeezed about a hundred years of living, laughing, joking, helping, supporting, and loving into his life here among us.”
Ray, who was almost 65, is survived by his wife Maureen and their three children Ray Jr., Brian, and Courtney.
CAPTION 1: Over 1,000 mourners in dress blues lined St. Mary’s square as Ray Phillips was carried into the church. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)
CAPTION 2: Fr. Jeffrey Maurer led the mourners inside. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)
CAPTION 3: Phillips had retired from FDNY Rescue 3. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)