Lewis Bodi was about helping other people.
He had a lifelong penchant for generosity honed by early life experiences as a child of Hungarian immigrants and his time in the U.S. Navy, having served in the South Pacific during World War II.
Bodi died Nov. 4 in a fire at his home in Glen Cove. He was 87.
Born Lazlo Bodi, the second of four children and the first to be born in America, he was raised in Racine, Wisc. His kindergarten teacher called him Lewis and he kept the name for life.
Bodi served as a gunner on a fuel supply boat supporting the U.S. Marine Corps as it island-hopped through the Japanese-held atolls in the South Pacific.
It was a formative experience for a young sailor whose intellectual curiosity drove him to lie his way around orders to remain on his boat, instead hitching a ride to the shoreline of Tarawa the day after Marines made an amphibious landing and took heavy losses against well-prepared and tenacious Japanese defenses.
The landing was the first in the campaign to push Japanese forces from the Central Pacific Islands, and the cost of learning how to execute such operations fell on the 12,000 Marines who were ordered to the beaches of Tarawa. Nearly 900 of them were cut down on those beaches, killed by Japanese who fought to almost the last man: 4,690 defenders were killed while only one officer and 16 soldiers surrendered.
The raw reality of human beings' capacity to deliver such violent carnage on one another was something Bodi had to see for himself. That and the rest of his Navy experience gave Bodi a sense of purpose.
"The Navy, for him, was one of the best times of his life. It made him want to be a lifelong learner and understand history," said his daughter, Sari.
It was an experience that might have ended his life during one fight when two Japanese bombs fell on either side of his turret. They didn't explode, and he lived to return home to a GI Bill-financed education and the woman he would devote himself to.
Bodi met his future wife, Sally, on a blind date at DePauw University.
"He was president of the student council, roguishly handsome," Sari said in an email. "She was a Midwestern beauty with corn-silk blond hair from a small town, daughter of the surgeon general of Illinois, president of her graduating class (albeit a class of 32 students). She played the flute in the marching band. He was a dashing quarterback for his college football team (all right, third string)."
They married and moved into a trailer in Madison, Wisc. Their humble circumstances didn't prevent them from being generous. One Thanksgiving, Sally went down to the local church to help make food baskets for the area's poor. The next morning the couple woke to find a basket on their own doorstep.
They raised their family and went on to successful careers that made many amenities available to them, yet their values remained uncompromised -- education for their children and family members was the priority. Vacations were simple, cars were bought used. The couple spoiled their brood -- "Friends fell under the same category as family," Sari said -- with warmth and doors that were never closed to anyone.
Lew, as most knew him, had a passion for science, history, cooking and reading, "devouring two newspapers a day." He had a boundless thirst for knowledge. Having made it to college only through the financial benefits of the GI Bill, he had an awareness of what a bit of generous opportunity could do for a person who was faced with challenges to upward mobility.
He turned that awareness into a responsibility. In 1967, he accepted an offer from CUNY's fledgling York College and helped establish it as a permanent institution in Jamaica, Queens. The school offered the area's diverse population educational opportunities right at home.
Bodi was its dean of natural sciences, dean of faculty, and retired as the longest-serving provost and vice president of academic affairs in the school's history.
His generous spirit understood no one as undeserving of his friendliness or assistance. Sari recalled a time she returned to Glen Cove for a funeral after years of living elsewhere. Unable to find the funeral home, she called her father who directed her to the place despite terrible cell phone reception. When she thanked him he said, "Who is this?"
His kindness engendered a kinship with animals, including a rat he fed in the basement until Sally put her foot down about the house guest.
His passions extended to political and social issues.
"Lew was a passionate Democrat married to Sally, an equally passionate Republican. They had a tradition of driving to the polls together, canceling out one another's votes," said Sari.
Perhaps the passion he was best known for was humor. The guy who loaded his family into a seatbelt-less Ford station wagon for vacations to Wisconsin or camping trips to New England couldn't confirm a date without a regular reticence: "I'll have to check my itinerary; I think I have to be in Paris."
Lewis Bodi is survived by his wife of 62 years, Sara Lord Bodi, former chief psychologist of Glen Cove City Schools; son Dr. Kip Bodi, his wife Christine, and daughters Sari Bodi, her husband Eric Montgomery, Betsy Bodi Thomas, her husband Dr. Philip Thomas, and Dr. Nancy Bodi-Hurley, and her husband Dr. Michael Hurley. Also surviving him are thirteen grandchildren: Kip and his wife Sara, Stephanie and her husband Matthew, Caroline, Brett, Jenny, Morgan, Emma, Bennett, Weston, Ming, Luke, Scott, and Sara.
A wake will take place Friday, Nov. 9 at McLaughlin Kramer Megiel Funeral Home, 220 Glen Street in Glen Cove. Visitation times will be 3 - 5 p.m. and 7 - 9 p.m. The funeral service will be held Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10 a.m. at McLaughlin Kramer Megiel Funeral Home. Lewis will be laid to rest at Locust Valley Cemetery on Ryefield Road in Locust Valley.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to York College: giving.york.cuny.edu.
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