Northern Brooklyn

John Philip Bigolski, a Williamsburg stalwart, Army veteran and city servant, dies at 71

Dec. 22, 1947 – July 28, 2018

July 31, 2019 John Nicholas Bigolski and Ned Berke
John Philip Bigolski. Photo courtesy of John Nicholas Bigolski
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John Philip Bigolski, a father, husband and longtime fixture of the northside Williamsburg community seen frequently chatting up storeowners on Bedford Avenue and doling out wisdom from local barstools, passed away on July 28 at the age of 71.

As a special investigator for the Office of Midtown Enforcement during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration, Bigolski played a part in the resurgence of Times Square and Midtown Manhattan by bringing businesses up to code and ensuring safety for visitors. He stayed in the office until 2016, having served three mayors in the role.

He took his job seriously and with an open mind, according to his son, John Nicholas Bigolski.

“He would go into sex shops and gay clubs when no one else would want to. And he’d work with anyone so long as they focused on the job,” the younger Bigolski said. “He took assignments no one else would take; he’d take it and do it well.”

Born on Dec. 22, 1947, Bigolski witnessed another of modern New York City’s most dramatic transformations closer to home, passing most of his seven decades within the few square miles of Williamsburg’s northside. He moved to the neighborhood as a child from Jersey City, New Jersey, with his three sisters and his parents, John Biegalski and Mary Pryma Biegalski. He graduated from Eastern District High School in 1965, having previously attended P.S. 17 and J.H.S. 126.

His father, a Greenpoint native, owned several bars and restaurants catering to the neighborhood’s longshoremen and dock and factory workers, who Bigolski would later see replaced by artists, entrepreneurs and throngs of tourists.

“He’d say a lot of new people were not honoring the history of the neighborhood, and how it was growing up, and how it was a world renowned shipyard,” Bigolski’s son said. “[Yet] he always supported and was friendly with the artists who were moving in, because he always had an affinity for the arts. Artists and musicians alike.”

From his stooped brownstone off Bedford Avenue at North Sixth Street, Bigolski watched much of that transformation alongside his wife, Mary Voloshin, to whom he was married for 38 years until her death in 2011.

John Philip Bigolski in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of John Nicholas Bigolski
John Philip Bigolski in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of John Nicholas Bigolski

Voloshin and Bigolski were friends when he was drafted to the Army in early 1968. He saw service as a military police officer at Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin until 1970. He earned commendations as an expert in rifle and pistol, and received the National Service Medal and Army of Occupation (Berlin) Medal. Bigolski received an honorable discharge in early 1970.

During his time overseas, Bigolski and Voloshin corresponded frequently. After he returned, they married on June 25, 1973. Their first and only child, John Nicholas, was born on Nov. 12, 1984.

In the years prior to his service in the Mayor’s Office, Bigolski worked several odd jobs throughout the ’70s, including fabric salesman, counselor in an inner-city charity and day school, gas station and gas truck inspector and short-order cook. He completed his bachelor’s degree in sociology through City College in 1980 and took on a series of state and city jobs until he joined the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Enforcement in 1994, where he stayed until his retirement.

Bigolski was an avid fisherman and angler, casting his line along the New York City and Long Island waterfronts. He had a thorough knowledge of the region’s beaches, inlets and bays.

“On Long Island, as a kid, when we would go fishing and I’d see him haul in a really, really big fish it would impress upon me as a kid the strength and the power of staying in the fight. That’s a strong memory in my mind,” Bigolski’s son recalled.

Bigolski was a lifelong Mets fan, having been a devout Brooklyn Dodgers fan and an enemy of the Yankees. He frequently recounted early childhood memories of hopping local buses with other kids down to Ebbets Field. As a Mets fan, he watched nearly every game — except when the Mets disappointed too deeply.

“He would usually turn on the game for at least a little bit, but sometimes he’d get so disgusted with the Mets he’d say, ‘I’m not watching them again.’ And then a day would go by and he’d watch again,” said his son.

Bigolski’s oldest sister, Barbara Johnston, passed away on the same day as he did, July 28. He is survived by his son, John Nicholas, as well as his sisters, Virginia Bonofiglio and Eleanor Schub, and many nieces, nephews and extended family.

He will be remembered as a neighbor, a public servant, a veteran, a gruff voice with an impish smile — and, ultimately, as a caring, generous father and a loving husband.

Viewing hours for John Philip Bigolski will be held at Evergreen Funeral Home (133 Nassau Ave., Brooklyn, NY) on Saturday, Aug. 3, 7-9 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 4, 2-5 p.m. Services will be held on Sunday, Aug. 4, 7-9 p.m. Interment will be at Calverton National Cemetery (210 Princeton Blvd., Calverton, NY) following a short service at the funeral home on Monday, Aug. 5 at 9 a.m.  

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to a charity of your choice.

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