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Spirit of Ridgewood officer lasts in Latino scholarship

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In the more than seven months that have passed since her husband Ramon died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, Carmen Suarez has endured her loss while leaning heavily on his comrades from the New York Police Department.

But Friday night it was her 9-year-old daughter, Jillian, who benefited from the generosity of her father’s colleagues and received a $1,000 scholarship from the National Latino Officers Association at a dinner dance in Astoria.

“His brothers in blue are the ones who are watching over me and his children,” Suarez said Friday at the elegant fund-raiser, where she sat far from the lights and the commotion with her daughter and one of her classmates.

When terrorists hit the World Trade Center, Transit Officer Ramon Suarez left his post on Delancey Street and hailed a cab downtown. That he saved lives there is documented clearly in photographs that show him escorting victims away from the burning buildings.

But Suarez died in the towers’ collapse, and nearly a thousand people attended his Dec. 22 funeral at St. Matthius Church in Ridgewood after his body was recovered from the rubble.

Friday night’s Third Annual Scholarship Dinner Dance attracted a comparable crowd to Crystal Palace in Astoria, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki delivered keynote addresses in which they praised the city’s uniformed personnel.

“On behalf of 8 million people, please keep up the good work,” Bloomberg said in a brief speech during the cocktail hour. “We need you.”

About an hour later, Pataki entered the upstairs ballroom amid a flurry of camera flashes and handshakes. He began his comments in Spanish, eliciting a wave of laughter with an opening joke, but soon returned to his native tongue.

“In this room, we have many heroes, people who risk their lives every day to protect our freedom” Pataki said. “The people of New York will never ever forget Ramon or the heroes who died with him.”

Carmen Suarez remembers Ramon as a hero, as well — not only as an officer but as a husband and father.

“He was so proud of his uniform. He was an exceptional cop,” she said. “He was always the first one to be there.”

Even when he was off duty, Ramon Suarez would rush to the scene of an accident or help resolve any problem that surfaced in the neighborhood.

He swept his wife off her feet in much the same way.

“He was just a wonderful man,” she said. “He was my knight in shining armor. It was very easy to fall in love with him.”

The family’s most recent vacation was in June, when they decided to drive north from a vacation home to Niagara Falls on the spur of the moment. While Carmen sat in the car, Ramon stepped into a hotel with Jillian and paid for a luxurious room, ignoring his wife’s protest over the cost.

“He said, ‘Honey, you live only once. You have to enjoy the moment,’ ” she said. “I will always remember that view and the big smile he had, because it was exactly what he wanted.”

Jillian also took advantage of Ramon’s bent for the spontaneous.

“He was funny,” said Jillian, slender but tall at 9 years old, with large brown eyes. “On his days off, on hot days, we used to go to Six Flags.”

A 15-year veteran of the New York Police Department, Suarez lived with his wife and daughter off Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. He also has two children from a previous marriage, Sophia 27, and Ramon Jr., 25.

The annual scholarship was created to honor the memory of those who had died in the line of duty, said Anthony Miranda, president of the National Latino Officers Association.

“This way it’s kind of like to preserve the history,” Miranda said in a phone interview Monday. “The scholarship recipients will have to know about the person in whose name the scholarship they won.”

But the scholarship assumed a deeper meaning this year, when it was awarded to the children of fallen officers. In addition to Jillian Suarez, the association also gave a scholarship to Alex Torres, a student at Brooklyn Tech whose father, Lt. Louis Torres, died of a heart attack.

“These are two individuals who contributed to the organization a great deal,” Miranda said. “We wanted to make sure that their children understood the value and the respect that both of their fathers had to our members and to our organization.”

For Carmen Suarez, the award came as a poignant interlude in a period of grief.

“I’m very proud of him,” Suarez said of her husband. “I just wish he was home with us right now.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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