Meet a New Yorker for Parks

In Memoriam: Edward (Kerry) Sullivan

January 18, 2013

Staten Island’s vast natural environment – its miles of beaches, its woodlands and wetlands, its sprawling parks and dynamic marine animal habitats– was Kerry Sullivan’s world.

Sullivan, who passed away on December 21 at the age of 55, lived on the Island nearly his entire life. He grew up in Tompkinsville and loved the water and the land around it. He graduated from the Harry Lundberg School of Seamanship in 1978 and worked aboard oil rig vessels and tugboats throughout the 1980s.

But it wasn’t until his return to the Island in the early 1990s that he truly created his legacy of environmental stewardship and advocacy. For 20 years, there was hardly a park or shoreline cleanup, hardly a rally or outreach campaign that didn’t involve Sullivan. And there was hardly a Staten Island environmental group he wasn’t in some way associated with.  Just a sampling: the Coalition for South Beach Pond Park Preserve, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, the Fisherman’s Conservation Association, Midland Beach Sportsman’s Club, New York/New Jersey Baykeepers, Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers, Clean Ocean Action and the Crescent Beach Civic Association.

“If he didn’t know you, he’d get to know you,” said Frank Filatro, a longtime friend.

His work spanned the Island – from organizing planning sessions for Lemon Creek and a fishing pier in Midland Beach, to rallying to protect Mariners Marsh Park, to cleaning up Silver Lake and Brady’s Pond parks. He also penned an environmental and fishing column for the Staten Island Register.

But perhaps the work he loved most was as Executive Director of the Natural Resources Protective Association (NRPA), a volunteer group, for which, among many other achievements, he founded an environmental youth corps.

“He worked tirelessly for waterfront access and protection,” said Jim Scarcella, a friend and fellow NRPA member. “That was really his passion.”

Sullivan was also a prolific Daffodil Project participant, for which NY4P honored him in 2008. That year alone, he planted more than 3,000 bulbs on the Island in several parks – and beyond.

“I remember him grabbing his extra bulbs – like 200 or so – and planting them right along the expressway. Right along 278! He just planted them all over, wherever he could,” Scarcella said.

Through all his varied work, his defining characteristics were generosity, selflessness and a tireless adventurism, friends said.

“Kerry was the guy at hearings who called it out if he saw people get preferential treatment,” Scarcella said. “He had a lot of fire in him.”

Later in his life, that sense of adventure, and also generosity, took Sullivan on trips to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Amazon. He and a group of friends, including Filatro, took an annual trip to Peru, where he and his wife, Victoria, helped start an orphanage, and later a school, for Incan children in the Urubama Valley, near Cusco.

“I met Kerry on a trip to Peru, and we became like brothers,’ Filatro said. “He had the same spirit on those trips as he did back home – always a fighter, never taking the credit.”

That fighting spirit prevailed to the end, as Sullivan battled cancer.

Just last year, as his illness worsened, his spirit and love of the marine environment carried him through a final adventure, to Florida, where he participated in a dolphin swim for cancer patients.

Now, inspired by his legacy, members of Staten Island's passionate environmental community pick up where Sullivan left off.

“He’s still doing it from upstairs, I know that,” Scarcella said.