Joyce Dinkins, wife of New York City’s first Black mayor and herself a former local coordinator in the state taxation office, has died. She was 89 and died Sunday, according to published reports.
In 1990, weeks before her husband, David, was sworn in as the city’s 106th mayor, she quit the state office to serve as first lady — the city’s official hostess and organizer of special projects at the mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion.
She was not only the city’s first Black first lady but also the first in 12 years to hold the position following the mayoralty of Ed Koch, who was a bachelor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who got his start in city government working as a young staffer in the David Dinkins administration, mourned the loss.
"Without Joyce Dinkins there wouldn’t have been a Dinkins administration. She was an incredible woman and an inspiration to @NYCFirstLady and I," de Blasio's Twitter account said. "The light she brought into this world will be forever missed. Tonight, the city she served is heartbroken."
De Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, is the city’s second Black first lady. She also worked for Dinkins, and the couple met on the job.
"She inspired me with her grace and her beautiful spirit. Her sparkle made our city gleam a little brighter, and we were all better for knowing her," McCray's Twitter account said.
At his daily news conference on Tuesday, de Blasio recalled Joyce Dinkins' work as first lady, particularly with children and literacy.
"That was truly a labor of love for her," de Blasio said, adding that David Dinkins would refer to her as his "bride," no matter how old they got.
Born Joyce Burrows on Dec. 14, 1930 in Manhattan, she was in elementary school when she and her parents moved to Yonkers from Harlem. Her father, the former state Assemb. Daniel L. Burrows, who also worked in insurance and real estate, hoped that suburban life would give Joyce and her sister an advantage.
But the family moved back to Harlem after a year.
The sisters were the only Black children at their Yonkers school and were teased and called racial taunts.
"It makes you aware that racism exists," Joyce Dinkins said in a 1989 interview with Newsday. "Prior to that, we had never encountered anything to that degree."
She met David Dinkins when the two were students at Howard University — he was walking with a calculus book under his arm, according to The New York Times — and married in 1953, the same year she graduated with a sociology degree.
She gave up plans to be a social worker to care for the couple's children, keep the books in her mother’s liquor store in Harlem and care for her after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She took the job at the state taxation department when her children were in their 20s.
During her husband’s campaigns for office — he was also Manhattan borough president — Joyce Dinkins carried petitions, rang doorbells and stood at subway stations.
A shy woman content to be out of the public spotlight, Joyce Dinkins was in some ways a contrast with her politician husband, who wore custom-made suits; she bought most of her clothes off the rack.
She was always supportive and encouraging to the family and would never be, as U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel told The Times for a profile published on the day David Dinkins was sworn in, "competing with you on page 1."