Monique Rivera Schwitzman, 61, celebrated by legal community
The Brooklyn legal community was recently hit hard by the loss of Monique Rivera Schwitzman, the wife of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association’s (KCCBA) past President Jay Schwitzman, who died on Monday at the age of 61 after a fierce battle with cancer.
“Monique was a fantastic, warm, loving, caring person that I was able to share my life with,” Schwitzman said. “She was a passionate person, an artist and a great cook who had a lot of spunk and was always fun to be around. She really was a warm and wonderful person.”
“Over the years, Monique became a part of our community, attending the Annual Dinner alongside Jay for 25 years, making friends with everyone she met and always looking radiant,” said KCCBA President Michael Cibella. “All who knew Monique were touched by her gentleness, warmth and charm. Her beautiful, smart, caring daughter Devon is a testament to the incredible mother she was, and her spirit and her will to never stop fighting with grace and dignity is something we should all aspire to.”
Rivera Schwitzman began attending legal and bar association events with Jay and she became a mainstay at the KCCBA dinners. That’s where she met retired Judge Jo Ann Ferdinand and the two became quick friends.
Judge Ferdinand, who lost her husband to cancer more than a decade ago, said that the two became even closer after Schwitzman was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. The judge explained that she was nervous that since her husband had not survived his battle with cancer that she wouldn’t be much comfort to the Schwitzman’s, but the opposite happened and they became even closer.
“To me, the most striking was there are a lot of people when they are sick, they don’t want to go out, their worlds shrink. But Monique was always ready to go out, go out to dinner, and when she lost her hair, she showed up with an adorable little mohawk,” Ferdinand said. “She didn’t hide it, she accepted it and it made us all strong. She was inspiring that way. She continued to see the beauty in things.”
Rivera Schwitzman was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where she went to the Ascension School. For a time she worked as a model and eventually transitioned toward work as a paralegal. She met her husband Jay in 1989 and the two got married in September 1996. They had one daughter, Devon, who attends Brooklyn Friends High School.
Monique was working as a paralegal when they met, Jay recalled.
“We just hit it off,” Schwitzman said. “She was a lot of fun and things quickly mushroomed to where we were quickly moving in together. We complemented one another well. I never would have achieved the professional success without Monique by my side”.
Schwitzman said that it was hard saying goodbye to his wife of 25 years, but recalled fondly her last words, “Love is everything.” He also recalled her final moments with Devon, whom she reached out to in the hospital one final time despite being nearly unresponsive.
“Monique was in her last days, she was in the hospital heavily sedated,” Schwitzman said. “She was not responding to commands, but when Devon came in to see her, just hearing her voice, Monique’s hands went up to embrace her. That’s when I knew it was goodbye. Watching her in her last moments reaching her hands up to hug her child — to see that strength of a mother for her child — was really incredible and a good way to say goodbye.”
“Previously, Monique expressed to me that it was important that Devon continue with her educational achievements that Monique wanted to see flourish,” Schwitzman said. “She wanted me to support Devon’s desire to advance Civil Rights and women’s equality and continue extracurricular activities in Model UN, performing arts and El Club Latino.”
Funeral services will be held for Rivera Schwitzman on Sunday, Jan. 14 at 11:30 a.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. The family will sit Shiva following the services on Sunday and on Monday and Tuesday as well from 3 to 8 p.m.
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