Arthur Rosenthal, executive director of the Rockville Centre-based Confide Counseling & Consultation Center, died on Aug. 1 after a 16-month battle with esophageal cancer. He was 72.
Mike Charles, vice president of Confide’s board of directors, said that Rosenthal, known as Art or Artie, who was “always upbeat in his battle with cancer.”
“Even on days where he had chemo, he came into work,” Charles said. “His mission was to rebuild lives. I think that’s what kept him going.”
Charles said that Rosenthal, who was named the Herald’s Person of the Year in 2010, turned Confide around since joining the center in 2000. Instead of focusing solely on intervention services, he emphasized outreach and education, bringing together different sectors of the community to help fight drug addiction.
Police Commissioner Charles Gennario said that Rosenthal played a critical role in the department’s anti-drug efforts, and that Confide was an important part of its “three-pronged approach” of treatment, education and enforcement.
“Art has helped out a lot of people we’ve known,” Gennario said. “We’re going to miss him tremendously. He was always there to assist us in our efforts. He’s been a big part of this community for a long time.”
Rosenthal also worked for many years with the youth of Rockville Centre on drug prevention. Chelsea Connolly, a former youth sector representative for the RVC Coalition for Youth, noted that Rosenthal was committed to keeping young people away from drugs. “He was at every meeting, and he was very passionate about what he did,” she said.
“His approach is very different from what I would get in school,” Connolly, 18, recalled. “They would describe it in foreign terms, in ways you couldn’t really relate. But when he talked about it, he talked about it like it could happen here, it could happen to someone you know, and that made all the difference.”
Anthony Paradiso, a Nassau County District Court judge from Rockville Centre and a former board president at Confide, summed up Rosenthal’s approach: “It’s not enough to just tell kids to say no. He understood you needed to be real with them. He made sure the counselors were dealing with the issues that underlie the addiction.
“He spoke from a place of experience,” Paradiso added. “He had the credibility to say, ‘I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.’ In dealing with addiction, you have to be in it for the long haul, and he certainly was. And if you’re on the other side of the conversation, you’re seeing the results of a lifetime commitment to that struggle.”
Rosenthal had a tough upbringing in Brooklyn. According to Gennario, “Art grew up in the streets of hard knocks.”
Jim Valooch, a childhood friend, described Rosenthal in his youth as, “the softest hard guy I knew.” One day, Valooch recalled, he and Rosenthal got into an argument with a few guys, and a physical confrontation ensued. Rosenthal was wound up, but the fight ended quickly, without many injuries. “Minutes later we came on this baby bird that had fallen out of the nest,” Valooch recounted, “and he had to stop and pick it up and make sure it was OK. He went from ‘I’m gonna kill you’ to helping this baby bird like that.”
This story mirrors Rosenthal’s life, Valooch said. “He went from this seriously drug-addicted street thug to today, when many people would say he saved their lives.”
Caroline Quadrino, a community liaison specialist for the Nassau County Department of Human Services who worked with Rosenthal, said that many drug counselors she works with started out as addicts themselves. “They’ve walked the walk,” she said. “They know.”
Still, she said, Rosenthal went above and beyond. “He was a man you can’t forget,” Quadrino explained. “He would go out of his way for anyone who needed help.” Quadrino would even send family and friends who asked for referrals to Art. “The feedback I would get: ‘He saved my life. If it wasn’t for him, I never would have made it through,’” she said.
Rosenthal took the early warning signs of the current opioid epidemic as a call to action, Paradiso said, and began expanding Confide’s services by hiring more counselors and doing more outreach. “He wasn’t high-profile,” Paradiso said, “but he was certainly high- impact.”
Rosenthal is survived by his wife, Adele, and children, Paula and Alex. His daughter Lisa predeceased him.
In lieu of flowers, the family recommends sending donations to Friends of Confide, 30 Hempstead Ave., Suite H-6, Rockville Centre.