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Whitestone transit officer dies after fighting cancer

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"On behalf of a grateful city, thank you for the gift of Thomas," Police Chaplain Edgar Rodriguez said to the grieving family.

O'Dea was a transit officer for 19 years and died June 7 at the age of 41.

Officers could be seen wiping tears from their eyes as the lengthy funeral procession left the Flushing cemetery last Thursday morning.

Family and friends said O'Dea always wanted to be a transit cop and that when he was 15 he was referred to as "Tom O'Dea Transit Cop."

"You could tell he was a bit of a tough boy," his father, Richard O'Dea, said at a luncheon at Monahan & Fitzgerald in Bayside after the burial. "When they gave him a job, he would go and do it. He earned a lot of respect from the officers."

O'Dea grew up in a house on 151st Place in Whitestone, where his mother, Adele Dolan, still lives. Before his death, he was living across the street from her on the same block.

"We went for walks, a lot of walks. He loved Jell-O and pudding and English muffin pizza," his mother said.

O'Dea was a subway cop for 12 years before he started working in schools and later driving the corrections van.

"I worried," his twin sister Lorraine Walsh said of his days as a subway cop. "I barely even slept."

His mother said O'Dea was a volunteer officer at Ground Zero during the relief efforts immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"He lost a lot of friends there. He went to funeral after funeral," Dolan said.

Doctors found a tumor in his small intestine two years ago, and by September 2002 O'Dea had stopped working.

"He was never tired, and he never complained about the cancer - never," Dolan said.

"Thomas was actually very happy to see how many people reached out to him at the end," Walsh's husband, Charlie, said. "That was a big thing for Thomas emotionally to feel that love."

His family said he declined a fund-raiser from the Police Department because he was not in need of the financial support.

O'Dea was a graduate of Holy Cross High School in Whitestone, where the family plans to make a donation.

His twin, Walsh, said she felt it was important for the community to remember her brother. O'Dea is also survived by another brother, Michael O'Dea, three nephews and a niece.

"At the end of his life, his key concern was his sister," Charlie Walsh said.

"I loved him a lot," Lorraine Walsh said, holding back tears. "I feel like I lost a part of myself."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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