Kathleen Hamilton Gerardi, a passionate local advocate for fair housing for more than 40 years who traveled the world helping improve the lives of the poor, from India to the Dominican Republic, has died. She was 77.

Gerardi, who lived in Long Beach in recent years and East Hills before that, died March 2 of congestive heart failure at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Family members believe she became ill on a December trip during which she and her lawyer husband, George, were working to help street children in India.

"She felt you just couldn't sit on the sidelines and hope things would get better," said her son, Robert, of Arlington, Virginia. "She had a desire to make the world a better place."

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Gerardi worked at the county, state and federal level to improve housing, and she loved to travel, often staying in convents. She was also a perennial student who earned three master's degrees: in education at Queens College, political science from LIU Post, and public administration from New York University. At the time of her death, she was a dissertation way from a PhD in political science at the City University of New York.

Gerardi served for a decade as director of state and federal aid for Nassau County, worked for the state Division of Housing and most recently served as a consultant and director of NeighborWorks America, a federally funded agency that helped train local groups to improve local housing. She also served as a village trustee in East Hills. She was former assistant professor and grants coordinator at Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus.

Born in Queens, Gerardi was the eldest of three children in a family whose father worked as an executive for Pan American World Airways. From him, she developed her love of travel. Her family later moved to Manhasset, where she attended St. Mary's schools.

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At age 19, as a Queens College sophomore, Gerardi met her future husband, a Fordham Law School student, at a parish dance. They wed in 1958.

"She was a beautiful girl, but also had a dynamic personality," her husband said. Over the years, he witnessed her impact on people. "She was interested in everyone, whether it was a bank teller or someone working in a grocery store," he said. "And every encounter ended up meaning something to those people."

Gerardi was heavily involved in a wide variety of groups, including Butterflies USA, a group that helps Indian street children; Hermandad Inc., which works largely in the Dominican Republic; her Catholic parish; the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

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"She was pretty extraordinary, part of the first wave of women in the 1960s coming into the workplace and balancing it with what was going on at home," said Eric Adams, her son-in-law.

Other survivors include daughters Kathleen Adams of Penngrove, California, Bethany Richardson Gerardi of Oakland, California, and Mary Jo Gibson, whose husband is Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook); sisters Betty Jo Schmaedick of Prescott, Arizona, and Mary Howard of Stanford, Connecticut; and nine grandchildren. A funeral Mass was celebrated Saturday at St. John's Roman Catholic Church in upstate Valatie. Burial will be in the spring.