Caribbean American former Queens boro prez dies

Former Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall.
Associated Press / Craig Ruttle

A Caribbean American former president of Queens borough has died.

Helen M. Marshall, the daughter of Guyanese immigrants, who was the first Black borough president of Queens, died on Saturday at her home in California, according to her former chief of staff, Alexandra Rosa. Marshall was 87.

Marshall, who served three terms as borough president, starting in 2001, was remembered as a champion of public libraries and her borough.

Melinda Katz, the current Queens borough president, who replaced Marshall, said she was a “larger-than-life figure in the civic life of Queens.

“Helen fought tenaciously to improve our children’s schools, to address seemingly intractable quality-of-life issues and to secure a fair share of City resources for Queens,” she said in a statement.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said Marshall was “a dear friend and colleague, a true asset to the residents of Queens and New York City.

“She distinguished herself during a career committed to public service that spanned more than half a century, from education to elected office,” he said. “I am proud to stand beside in her in history as the first African-Americans to serve as chief executives of our respective boroughs.

“Brooklyn joins in mourning the loss of this political pioneer, and of uplifting her story among those of the many ‘sheroes’ we celebrate this Women’s History Month,” Adams continued.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer lauded Marshall for her work on behalf of Queens.

“For more than three decades, at many levels of government, she was an unrelenting advocate for her community,” Stringer said. “She fought for kids, for libraries, for schools — and she delivered results.”

In 2013, the Center for an Urban Future reported that Marshall had steered more money toward library projects in Queens in the preceding decade than the other four borough presidents combined had done in their jurisdictions, according to the New York Times.

It said Marshall served as the first director of the Langston Hughes Library in Queens and was awarded the statewide Daniel W. Casey Library Advocacy Award in 2005.

Marshall was elected Queens borough president in 2001, serving three four-year terms, the Times said.

It said Marshall served in New York City Council for 10 years and in the State Assembly for eight.

Before entering politics, the Times said Marshall was a community activist in her East Elmhurst, Queens neighborhood, where she pushed for job training programs and economic development.

Marshall was born in Harlem on September 30, 1929.

She graduated from Queens College, City University of New York, with a bachelor’s degree in education and was an early childhood teacher for eight years, the Times said.

In 1969, Marshall left teaching to become the first Director of the Langston Hughes Library in Queens, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

She was married to Donald Marshall until his death in January; they had two children, Donald Jr. and Agnes Marie.

As a Democrat, Marshall was elected as Borough President of Queens in November 2001to succeed the term-limited Claire Shulman, Wikipedia said.

“She was very passionate about public policy and using it to make change,” Rosa said. “Helen wanted to make a difference. She was very much focused on government’s impact on individual lives.”

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