A July day at the Williston Park Community Pool in 1977 triggered Barbara Damon’s legacy.
Damon was breastfeeding her 2-month-old son when a lifeguard approached and told her she couldn’t feed her baby there; he said it was offending the other swimmers. When Damon refused to move, the pool rescinded her membership.
That was more than 40 years ago, and Damon later became one of the early fighters for rights of nursing women. She filed a lawsuit in 1978, alleging that her civil rights had been violated. It was settled when the Village of Williston Park agreed to construct a canopy by the children’s pool where all moms could feed their children younger than 4.
"It seemed to be pretty big news at the time," said the baby in the controversy, Michael, who is now 43 and works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle. "I think the most important thing you can do in your life is impact society. She was always just super proud of that part of her life."
Damon died of small-cell lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Oct. 1 in South Carolina. She was 75.
In addition to spurring change on Long Island, Damon’s case had an influence on her children. "I was in kindergarten," said daughter Carrie Corby, 46, a social worker from upstate New Hartford. "We took a limo to New York City to go on" a morning show. Damon was interviewed on the radio by a then-little-known host named Oprah Winfrey, Corby said, and stories about the case appeared in Newsday and The New York Times. Corby said her mother’s actions inspired her to go into social work. "She taught me the importance of advocating for people."
Decades ago, the quest to normalize breastfeeding in the United States was in its infancy. "It’s amazing that she was strong enough back then to be able to fight for the right to breastfeed her baby when everyone else was using formula bottles," said Donna Kimick of Massapequa Park, a board-certified lactation consultant. "She was ahead of her time. In 2020, we’re still fighting for the right to breastfeed in public."
Damon was born in Brooklyn but had moved to Williston Park and attended St. Aidan Catholic School and Mineola High School. She then moved to Mineola. Before having children, she worked as a legal secretary. Then she stayed home to raise five children — Michael was her third. She was a member of La Leche League, an international nonprofit that supports and advocates for breastfeeding, until the youngest child was weaned.
In 1991, Damon was divorced while her oldest was in college and the other four children were still in school. She returned to working as a legal secretary. "She loved going to Broadway shows. She loved live music," said daughter Beth Wagner, 48, of Oceanside, a high school English teacher.
Damon, a member of the Class of 1963, was an active member of the Mineola High School alumni association and made trips with fellow alums to cities such as Nashville.
Damon moved to the Myrtle Beach area after she retired. "She found it to be delightful," Michael said.
Damon also is survived by her children Patricia Damon, 41, of Rockaway Park, Queens, and Matthew Damon, 49, of New Hyde Park, and two grandchildren.