October 10, 1934 – June 20, 2020
Joseph Ferris, 85, passed away on Saturday, June 20th at Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, NY after contracting COVID-19 in April.
A lifelong Brooklynite, he was born on October 10, 1934 – the oldest of Catherine Downes and William Ferris’ five children. He graduated from St. Francis College in 1956 with a bachelor’s in history.
Following graduation, he served in the United States Army reserves and spent 15 years teaching in New York City schools, including several years as a teacher at Rikers Island Prison.
While first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1974 representing Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Sunset Park and Borough Park, his commitment to public service began years earlier. With like-minded friends and neighbors in Park Slope, he helped lead the charge to save Brownstone Brooklyn from the wrecking ball beginning in the early 1960’s. The block associations and civic groups he helped found include the Kensington Community Council, the Park Slope Civic Council, the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (originally the Slope Independent Democrats), and the Brooklyn Irish-American Day Parade.
He was particularly proud of his work with groups like the Magnolia Tree Institute in Bedford-Stuyvesant that planted thousands of trees in Brooklyn neighborhoods that stand to this day. A devoted Catholic deeply moved by the writing of Dorothy Day, he spent several years volunteering with the Young Christian Workers in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In 1964, he mounted his first campaign for elected office with a run for Congress. Five years later, he served as campaign manager on Norman Mailer’s mayoral campaign where he was referred to as a “one-man think tank.” In 1970 and 1972, he lost extremely close races to represent the 51st District in the New York State Assembly. Victorious in 1974, he served five terms in the Assembly before retiring in 1985. While in the Assembly, he served as Chairman of the Legislative Commission on Science & Technology as well as the chair of the Assembly Sub-Committee on Public Power.
He married Joan Ferris in the summer of 1984. Their first son, Joseph, was born the following year. In 1988, their second son, Thomas was born. A devoted father, he passed on to his children a love for civics, history, New York City, and public service.
After retiring from elected office, he remained active in the community from collecting petitions outside the Key Food to get candidates on the ballot, testifying at Community Board hearings on local issues, and fighting to keep and grow the city’s manufacturing job base.
Survivors include his two sons, Joseph M Ferris of Brooklyn, New York; Thomas Ferris of Shelburne, Vermont, daughter-in-law Eugenia Ferris, and grand-daughter Sophia Ferris; his brother William Ferris of Staten Island, New York, and sisters Eileen Ferris and Mary Lou Amaro, both of Brooklyn, New York. He is predeceased by his parents Catherine Downes and William Ferris, his brother John Ferris, and his wife Joan Ferris.
A funeral mass will be held at St. Francis Xavier in Park Slope on August 15th at 11am. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to the Old Stone House at PO Box 150613, Brooklyn, NY 11215.