New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave the key to the city to the family of Luis Alvarez, a 9/11 first responder and activist who died in late June from a 9/11-related illness.
Alvarez, who was 53 when he died, was a retired New York police bomb squad detective who developed cancer linked to the time he spent with other first responders at ground zero.
The mayor said thanked Alvarez’s family for his service and said his love and ability to “show up” for others helped so many people.
“To the entire family, you shared Lou with this city,” de Blasio said. “You shared him in a way that we will never forget. He made this a better place.”
Among those honoring Alvarez was his brother, Phil Alvarez, activist John Feal and comedian Jon Stewart.
“Thank you to the people of the city of New York for this great honor bestowed on our Lou,” said Phil Alvarez. “He would be very honored to receive this award today.”
During the tearful ceremony, Stewart spoke of Alvarez’s heroism through his simple but courageous acts of speaking out. He mentioned how Alvarez posted about his condition on Facebook, asking others who were also suffering to get in touch.
“Before any of us knew of Lou Alvarez and his heroics on television, this guy was saving lives on Facebook,” Stewart said. “Lou Alvarez represented the quiet heroism of acting compassionately.”
Alvarez became the center of a nationwide discussion about the extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund when he testified in front of Congress in June. He entered end-of-life hospice care one week after appearing before Congress.
After a contentious battle over funding, Congress passed permanent funding for 9/11 first responders at the end of July, and President Trump signed it into law several days later.
In the face of dwindling resources and a surge in claims, the fund’s administrator announced in February that it would need to significantly reduce its awards. The fund was scheduled to expire in 2020. But the newly signed legislation, championed by Stewart, ensures the compensation for victims through 2090.
John Feal, a fellow 9/11 responder and activist, said that after the bill was passed in Congress, Feal told everyone that they could stop fighting and go home to plant and grow something with their families.
“Lou put down his sword but he didn’t get a chance to pick up a rake,” Feal said, taking a moment to compose himself after he spoke.
Alvarez was appointed to the NYPD in 1990 and retired as a detective in October 2010.
Alvarez is survived by his wife Lainie and his three sons, David, Tyler and Ben. He is also survived by his parents, Aida and Felipe; his sister, Aida Lugo; and his brothers, Philip and Fernando.
Correction: This story has been updated to include Alvarez’s wife and children as his surviving family members.