John McAvoy, Lad.3 STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — When the Bette Midler recording of “The Wind Beneath My Wings” was released, Phyllis McAvoy gave a copy to her son, John. “He was my hero long before this,” said his mother. “Now everyone knows he’s a hero.” The gift became even more poignant when Ms. Midler sang the song Sunday at the memorial at Yankee Stadium for the victims of the World Trade Center attack. Mr. McAvoy was a firefighter with Ladder Co. 3 in Greenwich Village. According to his brother, Michael, his unit last called in when they were on the 31st floor of Tower 1. He is among the thousands missing at the Trade Center site. Mr. McAvoy’s wife, the former Paula Romano, and his brother said many people knew him as a hero, perhaps more than they could name. They all commented on how every friend was a best friend. Late for dinner one Easter Sunday, Mr. McAvoy said he had stopped to help someone fix a flat. A story later appeared in the Advance reporting a mother and daughter who had been helped by a “guardian angel” named John to fix a blown-out tire on the Staten Island Expressway near Targee Street. Although they were waiting for AAA, he quickly changed it so they would not be in danger. His family knew the last name of that angel. “Once he got to know you, he found a way to help you.” said his brother. Strangers and family members were all touched by this man’s life. Arranging his schedule to include shopping, doctors’ appointments and fixing the house for his mother was routine. His wife said Mr. McAvoy was fully involved in raising their two children, from the time they were infants, when John “never thought twice about changing a diaper” to the busy schedules of the two growing adolescents. When she recently completed her master’s degree in public health administration, he did everything he could to help her through it, including editing her papers. In addition to that inexplicable larger-than-life quality he shared with many firefighters, Mr. McAvoy’s cooking was legendary. At home, relates Mrs. McAvoy, “It took a while before he learned to make appropriate proportions. Early on he made enough for 20; he’d make enough sauce to last forever.” And, she admitted, “The kids preferred his cooking to mine.” Two days before the attacks, the McAvoy house was filled with women who gathered for a baby shower for his brother’s baby, expected in three weeks. “He helped me cook and serve all day,” relates Mrs. McAvoy. On Sunday, an annual family picnic was held in Holmdel, N.J. After meeting for nearly 30 years, this year’s was held with the theme of “family unity and togetherness.” The younger generation had taken over from the older in carrying on the tradition with the “Italian side of the family,” related Michael. “And John was always the cook.” Mr. McAvoy, whose 48th birthday would have been Sept. 17, was described as very funny and very tough. He began his 24-year service in the Fire Department in 1977 with Engine Co. 26, Manhattan, where he stayed briefly until he went to Engine Co. 5, also in Manhattan. His 13-year stay there was followed by a stint with Squad 1 in Brooklyn before he joined Ladder Co. 3 six years ago. “He loved being a fireman,” said his mother. “They were all like a family. They have been so kind to me. Two or three were here today, asking if there is anything they can do.” His wife agreed. “He loved his job more than anything,” she said. “He listened to the scanner all day long so he wouldn’t miss anything. He loved the excitement of the job. He could have retired four years ago, but he wanted to stay on.” Born in Brooklyn, he was brought to Mariners Harbor in 1961, where he attended St. Adalbert’s School in Elm Park and graduated from Port Richmond High School in 1971. The McAvoys moved to Port Richmond when they married, and settled in Richmond 16 years ago. An avid Yankee fan, he had been a pitcher for the West Shore Little League. He also played in league hockey in his youth, and was able to continue his love of the game through coaching and attending his son Kevin’s games in the Staten Island Ranger league. He was also a fan of the New York Rangers. “All of us have been in this limbo too long. It’s the longest wake I’ve been to. We all need the memorial to get on the other side of this,” said Mrs. McAvoy. “I know my children and myself will come out of this stronger. All this pain and his life are not for naught. I’m still trying to figure out how I can teach my children that, and that you can go on with your life and make a contribution to society.” In addition to his wife, Paula, his mother, Phyllis, his brother, Michael, and his son, Kevin James, surviving are his daughter, Kate Marie, and his brother, George.