A veteran MTA conductor has died from the coronavirus.
Ben Schaeffer, of Midwood, died on Tuesday, April 29. The Local 100 RTO conductor vice chair was 57.
According to the Transport Workers Union Local 100, Schaeffer had been on a ventilator at Maimonides Medical Center. They had been seeking plasma of any blood type from a male donor who had tested positive for COVID-19, recovered and had not had symptoms for 14 days.
Family and friends mourned the death of the beloved Brooklynite.
“Ben and I last spoke during the week before Pesach (Passover) started,” said Schaeffer’s girlfriend of 10 years, Lisa Smid, who is currently in Nashville. “He believed he’d had the virus weeks before and recovered from it. Ben, who has been a first responder, is a stickler for health and safety and our conversation over the last few weeks was all about COVID-19 and CDC guidelines. He didn’t return my call immediately, which is irregular, and when I called back, he said he didn’t feel like talking (but didn’t sound sick to me). I asked, “’’Well, can I have a kiss?’ He gave me the same enthusiastic ‘Mwah!’ smooch he’s always given me over the phone, and we said goodnight.”
Smid added, “Right before Pesach began, I left another message for him that was never returned. Neither Ben nor I use the phone or Internet on the first, second, seventh, or eighth day of that holiday. While he didn’t call back in the intermediate days of the holiday, I assumed he was preoccupied, as I was. On the seventh day of Pesach, yom tov had already begun and I started to get a bad feeling. I went online and googled Ben’s name. It was only then that I discovered the original news release on his union site, posted only two hours earlier.”
Smid remembered many of Schaeffer’s accomplishments.
“He was nominated for The Daily News’ Hometown Hero Award in 2012 for reporting an unusual amount of sparking on his N train,” she said. “It was discovered that a metal spring barrier between cars had stretched and was touching the third-rail connector, a potentially deadly situation that was caught in time.”
He was also a delegate to Judicial Convention–42nd Assembly District, Brooklyn, the author of “New York City Subways in Color, Vol. 1” (hardcover – 2011), and the very first New Yorker to swipe a MetroCard.
“Our deepest condolences to the family,” tweeted TWU Local 100. “Another #EssentialWorker taken from us on #WorkersMemorialDay.”
“The passing of Conductor Schaeffer is a devastating loss for the entire NYCT family,” said NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg. “During his career, he showed what it means to be a public servant – most notably putting his own life at risk to ensure the safety of the passengers in his care while evacuating a train car in 2018. He continued to serve his city bravely during this pandemic, representing the highest ideals of this agency. Mr. Schaeffer was well-loved by his colleagues for his willingness to lend a helping hand. We will never forget his heroism and dedication to moving this city. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Bay Democrats shared the news of his death on their Facebook page.
“Bay Democrats club regrets to inform you that our longtime member and community activist Ben Schaffer, TWU local 100 member and train conductor, passed away today in Maimonides Hospital from COVID-19,” the group stated. “Ben was a great, caring person who brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to every club meeting. We will always remember him. Sincere condolences to his family, colleagues and friends.”
Friends responded to the post with sadness and fond memories of Schaeffer.
“I just can’t believe it,” said neighbor and friend Arthur De Gaeta. “I only spoke with him about a month ago. He never had a harsh word about anyone. Always had a warm welcome when you met him. I will really miss him.”
“This is very, very sad,” wrote Martin Samoylov. “Ben was a great neighbor and always eager to engage in conversations. He’s spent his life in public service working for the MTA (even saving a car from arson) and was hoping to retire soon. Very sorry for his father and other family members. A real loss for Midwood and all of Brooklyn.”
“Today my good friend and Jewish liaison for my City Council campaign, Ben Schaeffer, passed away at Maimonides due to #COVID19,” added City Council candidate Anthony Beckford. “Ben was a very cool and down to earth person. Ben was a dedicated @TWULocal100 member & a hero. Miss You Ben. You were family. Rest In Power!!”
State Andrew Gounardes also added his condolences.
“I’m heartbroken by the death of Ben Schaffer, who I was lucky to know through Bay Democrats, from Covid-19,” he said. “My thoughts are with his relatives, friends, loved ones and TWU Local 100 family. May his memory be eternal.”
“Ben was a longtime member of the Transit Workers Union, a constant volunteer at the Transit Museum and a huge subway aficionado,” Kingsborough Community College posted on its Facebook page. “Ben would often volunteer for KCCs Homecomings running the Trolley that went around the campus.Ben was also a hero having saved many lives on his beloved subway. He thought of Kingsborough as his home and was so very proud of how many Kingsborough Alumni ran the subway system. He will be missed.”
According to Smid, Schaeffer was one of only two Orthodox Jews who work as subway conductors for the New York MTA, successfully battled for the MTA to create a yarmulke with an MTA insignia, actively campaigned to restore the historic East River caboose, was editor emeritus of the New York Railroad Enthusiasts newsletter and a consultant on the movie “Carlito’s Way” starring Al Pacino.
According to NBC News, in 2018 Schaeffer rushed to evacuate his train at the 36th Street station in Sunset Park when he spotted someone pouring gasoline all over the train floor and feared an explosion.