Helen Marshall, the first African-American Queens borough president, died Saturday. She was 87.
“She was a loving mother, a loving grandmother, a loving aunt and a loving sister, and she loved Queens, and always did everything she could to take care of everybody,” said her daughter, Agnes Marie Marshall, of Elmhurst.
Helen Marshall, who served as borough president from 2002 to 2013, was in hospice care in Palm Desert, California, said her daughter, who had just returned from visiting her.
Marshall, Queens’ second woman borough president, embraced her home’s transformation into one of the world’s most diverse places; nearly half of its more than 2 million residents are immigrants.
“If you see Queens, you see the world. Put your eye on the star and keep it there and keep on rising,” is the quote Marshall selected for her biography on the History Makers website.
When superstorm Sandy swept through Breezy Point in October 2012, Marshall was on the scene while the ruins still smoldered, making sure everyone was evacuated.
One of her “best moments” was creating the Queens General Assembly, a cross-cultural exchange center, she told the Queens Tribune in 2013, her last year in office.
Education was one of her lifelong passions; her many contributions include securing hundreds of millions of dollars for schools and libraries.
Melinda Katz, the current borough president, saluted Marshall as a trailblazer and “larger than life” figure.
“During her decades in public life, 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,” Katz said in a statement.
Marshall began her public service as an early-childhood educator after earning a bachelor’s in that field from Queens College, according to the History Makers website.
In 1969, she helped found and become the first director of New York City’s Langston Hughes Library.
Five years later, she began her ascent in city politics, winning election as a Democratic district leader. In 1982, she won the first of five terms to the State Assembly, and in 1991, voters in New York City’s 21st District elected her to the City Council.
“Helen Marshall was as bighearted, dynamic and brave as the borough of Queens, which she represented with such determined grace for three decades in many roles,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) said the borough had lost one of its biggest champions. “She always fought hard to ensure we got our fair share and she is leaving behind an incredible legacy of helping those in need.”
She enjoyed spending summers, her favorite season, in Sag Harbor, according to the History Makers website.
Marshall’s husband, Donald, died a month ago, her daughter said.
Other survivors include her son, Donald Jr., of Los Angeles, and his two children, Chandler and Chosen.