- An extraordinary Hamptons' woman passed away at 3:00 p.m. on October 24, 2012. She was not a Hampton celebrity, never starred in a film or reality television show, never had an art exhibition at the Parrish, never wrote a book and never hosted an A-list Hampton's fundraiser. What she did do was battle through a mid-life brain aneurism for over 30 years that left half of her body in paralyses and raised Quogue's most recognizable celebrity. No not actor Michael J. Fox
, essayist Roger Rosenblatt or novelist Coerte Felske, Marie Jankowski raised a boy-man named Preston.
Anyone who has ever lived in or passed through the Village of Quogue knows Preston Jankowski. He is the charming, friendly and very, very, did I mention very, conversational 58 year-old developmentally disabled gentleman who rides his yellow adult tricycle through the villages of Quogue, Westhampton Beach, East Quogue, and occasionally as far as Hampton Bays. A life-long resident of this beautiful village, he is an honorary member of the Quogue Fire Department, the Quogue Life Guard Squad and a member of the Knights of Columbus. He and his yellow tricycle lead the way for the infamous Coneheads' float every year at all the East End St. Patrick's Day parades. Yes, Preston is a Conehead. Heck, I'm not a Conehead!
Preston is one of the most functional developmentally disabled persons you will ever meet in your life, and that is because he was raised in Quogue and raised by Marie and Lenny Jankowski. I cannot imagine the miracle of Preston happening anywhere but Quogue or without Marie. I say this as Marie's daughter, Phyllis, is my companion of almost five years and I have known Preston since my days as the Editor-in-Chief of The Improper Hamptonian
starting in 2001, where he would stop by our offices at the Castle at Casa Basso
occasionally for an unexpected, but always entertaining and welcomed visit.
Preston Jankowski leading the Coneheads during the 2010 Westhampton Beach St. Patrick's Day Parade. (Photo: Douglas Harrington)
After her husband Lenny's death four years ago, Marie was left alone to deal with Preston, and yes I say deal
with Preston! Imagine yourself an 82 year-old, home-bound, half-body paralyzed woman dealing with a then 54 year-old developmentally disabled son with very strong opinions and an at least perceived, very demanding social calendar. But Marie was determined to maintain Preston's special life in Quogue. Well, they made it work! Marie was the brain and Preston was the brawn. Their synergy was a ballet of necessity. His strong arms opened jars, changed light bulbs, took out the garbage and occasionally lifted his mother out of her handicap chair. She, with one hand, prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. She cooked the food, he ran to the freezer in the garage to get the food. She did the laundry, he carried the laundry. Most challenging of all, Marie handled all the yearly paperwork required by New York State that allowed Preston to remain in Quogue, independent and free.
That said, let's talk about Quogue. I am hard pressed to believe that there is anywhere on earth that a person like Preston could have had the opportunity to live the life he has other than in the Village of Quogue. Quogue is a village lost in time; it is "Pleasantville" and has been for over two centuries. For the most part, every resident in Quogue knows Preston and every resident looks out for Preston. Quogue is a Norman Rockwell portrait of what every American town should be, but rarely ever realizes. Preston is Preston thanks to the generosity and concern of the residents of the Village of Quogue!
After an eight day battle in a brain tumor coma, Marie Jankowski passed Wednesday. Trust me, battle is the only way to describe it, as Marie held on for eight days through her own DNR and DNH Living Will wishes. I am sure she held on worrying about Preston; despite Phyllis telling her everyday that Preston would be fine. And Preston will be fine, thanks to the extraordinary Quogue community in general and Walter Stockton
and his staff at IGHL
What comes to mind for me is the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who wrote, "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!" Sitting by Marie's bedside with Phyllis, I did indeed see that brave rage. Good for you Marie and now, finally, Godspeed!
Marie Jankowski's family will receive friends and family at Follet-Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach on Sunday, October 28, 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A funeral mass will be held at St. Rosalie's R.C Church in Hampton Bays on Monday, October 29 at 10:30 a.m.
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com