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Jimmy Kirby: First Commissioner of Social Services in Suffolk County

When Jimmy Kirby was a young boy, he took the confirmation name St. Vincent de Paul after the patron Saint of the needy. Little did he know, his life would be devoted to care for the less fortunate.

Back in 1929,  a young married couple Dennis and Margaret Kirby moved to Kings Park.  With them was the newest member of the Kirby family, their one- year-old son Jimmy.  Both parents went to work in the Kings Park State Hospital; Dennis as a ward attendant and Margaret on the wards and ultimately hired by Principal as a housemother for the nurses.

From 1933-46, young Kirby and his siblings attended St. Joseph Elementary School.  When Kirby was asked to take a confirmation name, he chose St. Vincent DePaul, the Patron Saint of the Needy and the Poor.  The name would later prove apropos for Kirby.

In 1945, Kirby established himself as a true athlete and leader among his peers at Kings Park High School.  He and his brother were always vying for positions on the team or as a class representative.  Kirby played forward on the varsity basketball team and outfielder on the varsity baseball team for three consecutive years. His favorite sport, however, was track where he ran the 100 yard dash.  He was senior class president of the class of 1945,

Many high school students worked in the 1940’s, not relying on their parents for assistance.

“We were wartime kids. Employment was good. I worked with my friend in Bohack’s when I was 14 years old.  One summer I worked full-time as a lifeguard at Sunken Meadow.  That was a great time. I bought my first car when I was 16 years old. Back then, we did it all on our own because our parents couldn’t help us.” 

It was during this time where Kirby’s life of serving others began.  “We were wartime kids. We got involved in Red Cross activities and saved scrap metal for the cause. We were all in the Boy Scouts and did a lot of wartime activities with them.”

During his time at KPHS, Kirby met a young Smithtown cheerleader, Bea Wakefield.  They went out on a few dates and then lost track of each other.  Then, in 1952, Kirby was in a local spot called Bakers’ and the owner Tommy gave him a tip that there was a woman’s bowling league having a dinner down in San Remo at Pete's Tavern. Kirby and some friends decided to stop down and visit.  There was Bea. Both were thrilled to see each other. The two shared some dances and have been inseperable ever since.

Kirby did serve time in the military as a Catholic Chaplain’s Assistant.  His years as an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Church gave him plenty of experience for the job.  When he returned from his two years service, Kirby began working and going to school for his nursing degree.  When he applied at Kings Park State Hospital School for Nursing, he was turned away because they had six male nurse candidates and didn’t need anymore men. 

He trained at Pilgrim State and got his degree on scholarship at Adelphi Unversity. In 1963, Kirby worked as a Director of Nursing at Smithtown General Hospital and later went on to serve as the Deputy Commissioner at the Suffolk Home and Infirmary for the Aged. 

In 1965, Kirby was named Commissioner of Public Welfare for Suffolk County.  In 1966, that title was changed and he became the first Commissioner of Social Services. He served in that position until 1983. In 1973, Governor Rockerfeller appointed Kirby Vice President of the Board of Vistiors for Kings Park State Hospital.  In this capacity, Kirby and his colleagues were responsible for overseeing the welfare of the patients.  On a monthly basis, he met with doctors and staff to insure that patients were well cared for.

Kirby says of his hometwon of Kings Park, “You can take the boy out of Kings Park, but you can’t take the Kings Park out of the boy." Now a resident of Smithtown, Kirby cherishes his time in Kings Park. 

“What hasn’t changed (in Kings Park) is people really get along, work together to get things done. It is a small nice hamlet.”

Since his retirement in 1983, Kirby has been busy in community and civic activities.  he has been honored by the National Foundation of March of Dimes, the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center, the United Methodist Church, the NYS Public Welfare Association and the Kings Park Psychiatric Center for his many good deeds. He and his wife have two children, Jimmy Jr. and Kelley.

Today, Kirby stays involved in many community groups.  He has been active in the Smithtown Fire Department where he served on the Board of Commissioners for many years.  He enjoys being a behind the scenes man in the political arena.  and loves staying involved.

"I love meeting people.  Being able to help people out.  I just enjoy it!”, says Kirby.

When Kirby was a young boy choosing his Confirmation name of St. Vincent De Paul, there was no way for him to predict where his life’s path would take him. But, like his favorite childhood patron saint, Jimmy Kirby is a man who has lived a life of service to others and he is truly a Kings Parker you need to know.

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