Harry Brought ‘Em Up On
A special opportunity exists for lifeguards in Rockaway. In addition to making rescues some become part of the community they help keep safe. That’s what 71-year-old Harry McVeety, who retired last week, achieved in Belle Harbor.
"He actually brought up our kids on the beach," said Marjorie McClean as she sat on Beach 127 Street with her friends, mother-and-daughter Christine Brunner and Kathleen McIvor, this week.
In the early 1980s more than 100 neighborhood children could be found at the beaches between Beach 129 and 126 Streets, McClean said.
"Harry knew them all by name and every single kid knew him," McClean recalled. Harry encouraged the children to keep the beach clean and would remind them how long it takes for litter to biodegrade, she said.
"He ran a tight beach," said McIvor, who was one of those kids Harry helped protect.
"We always felt safe because he was there," said McClean adding that Harry never took his eyes from the water.
Last Friday was Harry’s final day on the tower. Friends gathered at Beach 112 Street to wish him well and present him with a plaque. City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr. also gave Harry a certificate of recognition for his enduring "dedication to a lifesaving job."
Harry’s 39-year career as a lifeguard began in the New York City pools. He guarded in Jones Beach for four years before eventually making his way to Rockaway—but he tells great stories of his years in between.
Harry told The Wave he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts with Robert Redford, worked as an encyclopedia salesman and was a Texas television personality. One day, while in between jobs, he said he found himself in Rockaway with his son. When Harry went in the ocean, his son approached a nearby lifeguard to see if he could get his dad a job. Harry, who would go on to lifeguard in Rockaway for almost 30 years, laughed heartily as he retold the story.
For each year he sat the tower Harry estimated he made 50 rescues, a total of about 2,000. But years of springing off his perch down to the sand, in rescue mode, has caught up with his body. As he sat, last week, on Beach 112 Street, where he was reassigned two years ago, he told of his "unsuccessful" knee surgery. He said he feels a few seconds slower getting to the water and through the breakers.
Although his days of being dressed head-to-toe in orange, Harry, who lives in Coney Island, said he will work "crew" (end of season maintenance) at the end of the summer. After that he plans to continue his other job—working as a factory representative and distributor for an air purification company. But it seems the memory of Harry, the attentive and trusted lifeguard, will not be forgotten around Beach 127 Street where he guarded for 27 years.
"Now that our kids have their babies we miss him," McClean said, "he was just the best."