Streams

One of the Last Sandy Victims Discovered Finally Laid to Rest

David Maxwell, 66, drowned in his Midland Beach home

Thursday, December 13, 2012

WNYC

David Maxwell, 66, drowned when the storm surge from Sandy rushed in from the shore and swallowed his yellow bungalow in Midland Beach on Staten Island. His body wasn’t found until 11 days after the storm.

He had no known relatives or financial means.

But when Gary Gotlin, the public administrator for Richmond County, stepped into the ruined bungalow where the water mark on the living room wall nearly touched the ceiling, he vowed to give Maxwell a proper burial.

"The first day I walked into this house right after he was found, I just felt the presence. I just felt it,” he said. “I could not allow a person who could speak anymore have a decision made to send him to potter's field when I could make a decision legally for him to be buried with dignity."

He began scrambling to arrange the Navy veteran’s funeral. He and his staff brokered donations for a casket, secured a plot, found a burial suit and worked to plan a service.

He learned Maxwell wasn’t alone.

James McCormick, 72, was Maxwell’s partner for more than five decades. The pair lived together for 50 years until last March when McCormick suffered a stroke. He was then moved to a nearby nursing home.  

During a recent visit to the Carmel-Richmond Heath Care and Rehabilitation Center on Staten Island, James McCormick was shy and still grieving.

He said Maxwell visited him nearly every day.

"He was open to everybody,” said McCormick. “He loved everybody."

Most of McCormick’s belongings were lost in the storm — including pictures of Maxwell. He attempted to describe his partner.

“He was short, chubby and baldish … with stubby little fingers,” he said.

And with a mischievous smile creeping across his face, he recalled their nick names: “I was the Jolly Green Giant. He was the midget,” he said.

The two men lived in Greenwich Village before moving to Staten Island 20 years ago. Maxwell made his living selling miniature trains in New Jersey, and McCormick, who was also a Navy veteran, designed and built dollhouse furniture. They enjoyed being homebodies together and cooking.

"He was going to take me home for Thanksgiving”, McCormick said, his voice choked by grief. “Let's not go into that."

Maxwell’s funeral was Tuesday.

Outside the St. Charles Church, a group of elderly Catholic War Veterans assembled to show their support on Tuesday. But other than his partner and a handful of neighbors, few at the funeral knew Maxwell.

Leslie Granowski, 55, lived in the adjoining bungalow to the couple.

She said she enjoyed making meals with the pair and sometimes going on excursions to Manhattan together.

“Before I left on Sunday (ahead of Sandy) I asked him to either go with me or to stay at the nursing home with Jim, he said he would," she said.

But she doubted he would actually leave the home he loved. And she was right.

The baby blue casket was saluted and carried from the church into a waiting hearse by the group of veterans. It was donated by a funeral home. The inscription reads: In memoriam David Maxwell 08/08/46 -11/09/12.

He was buried with full military honors at Calverton Cemetery on Long Island. His partner James McCormick is planning to be buried alongside him.

Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Maxwell's partner of five decades, 72 year old James McCormick.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Richmond County Public Administrator Gary Gotlin and James McCormick.
Courtesy of James McCormick/WNYC
A portion of the well tended garden of David Maxwell before the storm.
Courtesy of James McCormick
The yellow bungalow on Mapleton Avenue where the 2 men lived.
Courtesy of James McCormick
Mittens, the couple's beloved cat who died alongside Maxwell during the storm.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Their deserted home, post-Sandy.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The storm damaged living room.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Catholic War Veterans at Maxwell's funeral, outside St Charles Church in Staten Island.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Leslie Granowski and Stuart Chambers sitting with their former neighbor James McCormick before the funeral mass.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
James McCormick after the funeral for his longtime partner.

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Comments [12]

Leslie from SI

you did a beautiful job on the story. you can tell that you cared about letting people know what a kind soul he was. thank you, Leslie

Dec. 21 2012 06:17 PM

Beautiful story, God bless Mr. Maxwell and Mr. McCormick and those who made Mr. Maxwell's burial everything that he deserved-care, honor, and dignity.

Dec. 19 2012 11:53 AM
Tara from Tarrytown

Absolutely made me weep. One of the most touching stories I've ever hear on NPR/NYC. Thank you.

Dec. 14 2012 05:02 PM
Heather Martino from Staten Island

Thanks for posting Jim Smith! My grandma lives at Carmel Richmond. I'll look for Jim and bring him a garlic bagel with cream cheese next time, too. Great story Kathleen Horan. It brought me to tears.

Dec. 14 2012 01:31 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

The story is touching, but someone needs to edit before publication. Lots of grammatical errors.

Dec. 14 2012 09:04 AM
Aaron from Brooklyn

What a moving and touching story that is also, at the same time, a powerful testament to the endurance of gay relationships over decades -

Dec. 14 2012 08:43 AM
Andrew Miller from Staten Island

A nice Christmas card with a few bucks to help him with essentials like getting a haircut. James is a wonderful man and I will never forget the help provided by Gary Gotlin, the Catholic War Veterans, the Brooklyn Funeral Home, the Mayor's office of Veteran Affairs, St. Charles and its organist and a host of veteran organizations who came out to support Mr. Maxwell and McCormick.

Dec. 14 2012 08:08 AM
Beth Propper from Irvington, NY

Beautiful story, so well-produced and absolutely riveting. Heard it on the way home from work tonight. Thank you for sharing this story.

Dec. 13 2012 11:14 PM
Jim Smith from Staten Island, NY

I visited Jim McCormack at Carmel Richmond Nursing Home the day after the funeral. This was my first time meeting him.I felt moved by the story and attended David's funeral mass. Jim was a pleasant man and he seemed to enjoy company. I asked him was there anything I could get him. He answered "A garlic bagel with cream cheese". Sounded simple enough, so I will visit him agan over the weekend and bring him a garlic bagel with cream cheese.

Dec. 13 2012 09:09 PM
Margit

An absolutely beautiful story that made me cry. Great work, and rest in piece David Maxwell.

Dec. 13 2012 07:55 PM
Chriss from Montclair

A lovely, heartbreaking story.

Dec. 13 2012 07:50 PM
Louise Rozett from Brooklyn

Kathleen, your lovely story about David Maxwell and James McCormick was so touching. Can you think of anything Mr. McCormick might need at the nursing home? I'd like to send him something for Christmas, or make a donation to a charity he supports in David Maxwell's name. Thanks.

Dec. 13 2012 05:54 PM

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