Like Hitting the Jackpot
It can't be said with certainty that Richard Rodriguez was the only Puerto Rican man ever to parade around in a skirt and enjoy it. But his family is certain that no one could have reveled in doing so more than he did.
A member of the Port Authority Police Department and a drummer in the Port Authority's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. Officer Rodriguez was as proud of being a police officer as he was of his Latin heritage. And he didn't mind putting on a kilt and mixing the two. "He used to say he was breaking barriers," said his wife, Cindy.
Before joining the force, Officer Rodriguez went to school for technical drafting — and hated it. But the more time he spent with the volunteer first-aid squad in Perth Amboy, N.J., where he grew up, the more his career interests shifted to public service.
When the Port Authority police offered him a position eight years ago, he told everyone he had won the lottery. He was first assigned to Newark Airport, where he trained for special duty protecting the president when Air Force One landed there.
Three years ago he started teaching at the Port Authority Police Academy, which was in Sea Girt until it moved to Jersey City in August. When the planes hit on Sept. 11, Officer Rodriguez and the other officers rushed through the Holland Tunnel.
The Port Authority Emerald Society, missing one drummer, played at his memorial service.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 29, 2001.
Richard Rodriguez, 31, a fully involved cop
Port Authority Police Officer Richard Rodriguez gave his all in everything he did. So, his family and friends weren't surprised that on Sept. 11 he rushed to help rescue people from the World Trade Center.
"When I saw it on television I knew he was there," said his mother, Ana Rodriguez, who watched the horrifying images from her house in Villalba, Puerto Rico.
For months, Ana Rodriguez held out hope that her 31-year-old son had survived and was in a hospital somewhere. It wasn't until Jan. 9 that Port Authority officials notified the family that Officer Rodriguez's body had been positively identified.
"At least this way we will have a place to mourn and talk to him and bring flowers," his mother said, speaking about today's funeral service.
Memorial services were already held in New Jersey and Puerto Rico in November.
Officer Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Perth Amboy, was a 1988 graduate of Middlesex County Vocational-Technical High School in Perth Amboy. At one time, he considered studying to be an architect but scrapped the idea for what he thought would be a more interesting job as a police officer.
He attended Middlesex County Community College from 1989 to 1991 and studied criminal justice.
Officer Rodriguez was appointed by the New York-New Jersey Port Authority Police Department on Oct. 4, 1993. He was appointed to the tactical response bureau and then assigned to Newark International Airport before becoming an instructor with the police academy. He taught patrol operations, radio procedures, motor vehicle stops, water rescue, emergency vehicle operations and mobile video camera training.
"He was always doing something. He wasn't one to sit around," his mother said.
He married Cindy, his childhood sweetheart, in 2000. The couple were in the process of buying a house in the Cliffwood section of Aberdeen Township. His wife went ahead and closed on the house on Dec. 26.
"We were working on it together. It was something that he bought tools for. I had to finish it," Mrs. Rodriguez said.
Officer Rodriguez was a member of the Perth Amboy Volunteer Fire Department, the Perth Amboy Volunteer First Aid Squad, the Knights of Columbus and the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management.
He especially enjoyed being in the Monmouth County Pipes and Drums Band and was a drummer for the Port Authority Pipes and Drums.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. today in Holy Spirit Church, 580 Hazel St., Perth Amboy.
In addition to his wife and mother, Officer Rodriguez is survived by his father, Miguel of Villalba; his brother, Miguel of Burnt Hills, N.Y., and his sister, Anna Ramos of Perth Amboy.
Profile by Alicia Grey published in THE STAR-LEDGER.