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Josie Howard, Rockville Centre firefighter and tireless volunteer, succumbs to Covid-19

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Josie Howard was proud of her hometown, and spent her life helping others in the Rockville Centre community, whether it was improving their quality of life through her roles on the village’s planning and zoning boards, or saving lives as a volunteer firefighter. The mother of five and grandmother of four died Feb. 18 after a battle with Covid-19 and pneumonia. She was 64.

“She was a fighter,” her husband, James Howard, said, “and she fought until the end.”

James described his wife of 43 years as someone who was dedicated to a number of local organizations, all in the name of service and the betterment of the community. She was not only a firefighter, but also a member of the village Fire Department’s fire police squad and an adviser to the Junior Fire Department. In addition, she served as a member of the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and as president of the Lions Club.

“She was just a great person,” James said. “I don’t think anyone ever had a bad thing to say about her.”

Josephine M. Howard, nee Murray, was born on Nov. 15, 1956, and married “the boy next door”: James and his family moved into the house across the street from her when he was a teenager, and they dated for five years before marrying on Nov. 11, 1977. They couldn’t afford to buy a house in Rockville Centre, James recalled, so they lived in Baldwin for 10 years. When they finally returned, he said, Josie was so happy that “she cried at the closing.”

“She loved this town,” James said.

Josie worked at the public library for over 20 years, but the bulk of her activity in the community was volunteering. “She did it all for service, not for money,” her husband said, adding that she dedicated herself fully to whatever project she was involved in. “She would see it through to the top,” he said, “and then, when she was satisfied she couldn’t do anything more, she would move on.”

The Howards raised their five children in the village, and after their youngest daughter started school, Josie began working in the children’s room of the library. She also joined the Fire Department’s Floodlight Co. No. 1.

A cousin of Mayor Francis X. Murray, Josie was part of a family with a long history in the Fire Department. Her father, Matthew Murray Sr., was an honorary chief. He paid tribute to her at Monday’s village board meeting.

“She was a dedicated firefighter,” Murray said. “As an adviser to the junior firefighters, she was always there for the young members, and was an important mentor to them.”

Kevin Creegan, a member of Live Oak Engine Co. No. 1 and a former captain of Floodlight Co. No. 1, said that Howard was one of the first fire medics to join the department. She started at Floodlight, and became an EMT and eventually a critical care paramedic. About 10 years ago, Creegan said, she became an active firefighter with Live Oak Engine Co. No. 1 and also joined the fire police squad. She was instrumental, Creegan said, in getting the junior firefighter program started for children ages 14 to 18.

“One of the biggest things about Josie,” Creegan said, “is that she would always take people under her wing and show them ropes.”

She helped organize the annual golf outing for the Floodlight Company, Creegan said, and co-chaired Live Oak’s entertainment committee. “She was a remarkable lady,” he said, “and she will be missed.”

Her daughters Kellie DeCicco and Katie Mascolo spoke at a funeral Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral on Feb. 23. DeCicco said that her mother was “adulting” while also raising her children.

“She was learning as she went, and she managed to be a difference maker,” DeCicco said. “‘I got an idea!’ was her catch phrase.” Her daughter listed some of the causes she raised money for over the years, and added, “She was always advocating for the voices not easily heard.”

“I have such fond memories of my mother,” Mascolo said, noting her mother’s adventurous nature, baking skills and unconditional love for her grandchildren. “One thing we all remember about my mom is that she was always there for everyone. She was a leader, a motivator and very involved. She was an amazing human.”

“What a firecracker,” DeCicco said, “and just like fireworks, she lit up our world, she burned big and bright, and then she faded, just more beautiful. And in the end, we were all in awe of her strength, and that light, until the last final flicker faded into the fold of the universe.”

In addition to her husband, DeCicco and Mascolo, Howard is survived by two other daughters, Kristie Vinopoll and Kassie Howard; a son, Jim Howard; and grandchildren Aidan Mascolo, Amelio and A.J. DeCicco and Mackenzie Vinopoll.