Angelic Help: Firefighter's Widow Finds Way to Comfort Others

by: Oliver Libaw and Kristie Kiernan,, 10/23/2001

The pin - a guardian angel wearing a fireman's helmet - was a gift from New York City Deputy Fire Chief Ray Downey to his wife Rosalie, a present for their 40th wedding anniversary last April.

"When he saw this angel pin with a fire helmet he knew she would love it and bought it for her," says Ray's daughter Marie Tortorici, adding that her father bought matching pins for her, her sister Kathy and her three sisters-in-law.

Now the pin means even more to the family. Ray Downey was among the 343 firemen killed during rescue operations at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. His body has not been recovered.

Since Sept. 11, Rosalie has worn the pin every day for some solace and courage to go on, as her family struggles with the loss of the 40-year fire department veteran who never missed a grandchild's soccer tournament or softball game. It is a symbol both of her husband's love and her faith that he is now in heaven.

"The pin always meant an angel for your shoulder to watch over you in peace and love," says Rosalie Downey. "Now I know the angel is Ray."

And now it has become a source of connection with other New York firefighters' families who lost loved ones in the worst tragedy the department has ever faced.

Finding Strength by Helping Others

The first day Rosalie and her family went to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, a friend whose firefighter son is also missing saw the pin and loved it, and that made Rosalie decide to give matching firefighter angel pins to all the other families, hoping it would help them as it has helped her.

Now the family is sending them out, each with a red, white and blue ribbon, a poem by Rosalie's daughter Kathy Downey Ugalde, and a comforting letter from Rosalie reminding each family "that we as a nation will never forget the heroic action of your firefighter on that dreadful day."

"Maybe the families will feel the same way as me Ñ that their loved ones are looking over them as well and it will give them courage and strength," she says.

Kay Morgans, the owner of Firehouse Treasures, the small Oklahoma company that makes the pins, is donating the pins.

Morgans, a firefighter's wife herself, says she has made it a practice to send a firefighter angel pin to the family of each fallen firefighter across the country. She is grateful that Rosalie is personally distributing the pins in New York.

"I just think it's so admirable," she says.

A Reminder of Her 'Guardian Angel'

Denise Esposito, whose husband Michael is among the missing in New York, is grateful for the gift.

"I've had a guardian angel since Wednesday [Sept. 12]," she says. "I knew when I looked up in the sky and saw all those stars. He's here with me."

The pin, she says, will reinforce her faith, and be a reminder of her husband. It's especially meaningful because her husband and Ray Downey had been close, she says.

"Michael looked up to him. Downey was his mentor," the mother of two remembers. "[Michael] busted his chops so much because he loved him so much."

"OUR ANGEL", a poem by Kathy Downey Ugalde