By Ray O’Hanlon
One of the most prominent members of New York’s Irish community, Jerry Campion, died Feb. 2 at the age of 95.
For many years, the Mountrath, Co. Laois, native was the smiling manager of the Oval Park Deli in the Bainbridge area of the Bronx, where he served up advice and sustenance with equal aplomb.
Campion, known widely as the "Mayor of Bainbridge," was a legendary figure when it came to helping others in need, especially new arrivals from Ireland.
His work on behalf of his community was ultimately recognized by the proclaiming of "Jerry Campion Day" in the Bronx by Borough President Fernando Ferrar.
In the late 1980s, Campion made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic for his fund-raising on behalf of a young Irish woman, Majella Hunston, who needed sight-saving surgery that was only available at the North Shore Medical Center on Long Island.
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Hunston made several trips to the U.S. for treatment and Campion raised $75,000 to cover the costs of travel and her medical treatment.
Campion also worked to raise money for Irish aid workers dealing with the orphan crisis in Romania.
Closer to his adopted home, Campion was a trustee of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in the Bronx, head of the Bronx division of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and a leading figure in Catholic Charities.
Additionally, he was a lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. He was recognized at one point as the association’s oldest living member.
Prior to working at the Oval Park Deli, Campion was a manager with the Safeway store chain and was both organizer and first president of Local 474 of the Grocery Employee Workers.
Campion came to America in 1927, and though he quickly warmed to his adopted country, he never forgot that he had once been a newly minted immigrant.
During the undocumented crisis of the 1980s, Campion was to the fore in aiding the thousands of new Irish illegals. His work for the new Irish won him recognition when he was proposed for the Irish Echo’s "Unsung Heroes" honors list in 1996.
His proposer for the list said at the time that Campion had "looked after these young people like a father."
Jerry Campion married M’ Ryan on June 1, 1937 at St. Thomas Aquinas. The couple had three children before M’ died in 1969. Campion later married Theresa McNally. She passed away in 1975.
Campion, who lived in the Bronx until 1993 and most recently resided at the Nyack Manor Nursing Home in Rockland County, is survived by his daughters, Maureen Donoghue and Gerri Garvey, and a son, Edmund, and their spouses. He is also survived by nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren.
"I cannot begin to tell how many people have called us since dad died to tell us how he touched their lives. People we never knew in the Bronx tracked us down to share some of the most wonderful stories," said Campion’s daughter Maureen.
Donations can be made in Jerry Campion’s memory to the Dominican Sisters Chapel Fund, 175 Rte. 340, Sparkill NY 10976.