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Deena Lesser dies; ex-mayor of Thomaston was ‘model for women’

Deena Lesser, a longtime North Hempstead Town employee,

Deena Lesser, a longtime North Hempstead Town employee, former Great Neck Water District commissioner and ex-Thomaston village mayor, died on Oct. 3, 2017. She was 87. Credit: Lesser family

Deena Lesser, a longtime North Hempstead Town employee, former Great Neck Water District commissioner and ex- Thomaston village mayor, has died.

Lesser, who was 87, died Oct. 3 from Alzheimer’s disease-related issues at North Shore University Hospital. Her family and friends remembered her as a caring woman who fought passionately for the causes she believed in.

With her many roles in local government, she was an inspiration to women in politics, but she was never boastful about her accomplishments, said one of her daughters, Julie Barkan, of Fort Salonga.

“She was a trailblazer, but I didn’t realize she was paving the way for women in government with every step she took,” said Barkan, 60. “She didn’t do anything she did for credit, it was just the way she lived . . . she totally believed that each of us could effect change and she lived personally that way.”

A Great Neck area resident since the 1960s, Lesser was a pillar of the community, said her friends and family. She was one of few women in public service “at a time when there weren’t very many,” and her work was “a model to all people, especially women to show that there’s nothing that you can’t do,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth.

Born in Brooklyn in 1930, Lesser was raised in the borough, attending Erasmus High School before studying fine art at Adelphi University, from which she received a bachelor’s degree. After an introduction by one of her sorority sisters, she met Frank Lesser, whom she married in 1950. After residing in East Meadow, the Lessers moved to the Village of Thomaston in 1964.

As a pair, they were “just right for each other,” and both took an active interest in local politics, said their daughter Laura Lesser, of Manhattan. The couple’s political involvement began in earnest after they joined a community battle against Robert Moses’ ultimately unsuccessful plan to construct a viaduct that would tear up portions of Thomaston, Laura Lesser said.

During election season, the Lesser residence was transformed into a field office lined with phones, which quickly became life as usual, both daughters said.

Lesser was appointed to the Thomaston village Planning Board in 1977, and joined the Board of Trustees in 1981, where she served as deputy mayor. She was then elected mayor,a role she filled until 1992. She then began working at the Town of North Hempstead, where she had multiple roles over the years, including town clerk, program director of outreach, and assistant to Supervisor May Newburger, one of Long Island’s first female supervisors. Lesser then served as a commissioner for the Great Neck Water Pollution District from 2004 to 2016.

Lesser and her husband both served as water district commissioners and as Thomaston village mayors. The couple also once ran silk screening and real estate businesses together.

Along the way, Lesser was also involved in many groups, including the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club and the Rotary Club. One of her proudest accomplishments was working to preserve a rare Chinese quince tree planted in Thomaston, her daughters said.

Lesser’s moral compass was in “exactly the right place,” said Steve Reiter, a commissioner in the Great Neck Water Pollution District.

Lesser was predeceased by her husband and a son, Steven. In addition to her two daughters, Lesser is survived by eight grandchildren.

A service was held on Oct. 6 at Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Manhasset. Donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore.

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