Photo Courtesy of the Queens Borough President’s Office
Helen Marshall was the first black Queens borough president.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Helen Marshall, who in a 30-year political career served Queens as borough president, a member of the City Council, and a member of the Assembly, died on Saturday at her home in California. She was 87.
“Helen Marshall – the Queen of Queens – will be remembered as a trailblazer who dedicated her life to public service through her work as an educator, community activist, and elected official,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. “I was fortunate enough to know Helen Marshall, to work with her, to be inspired by her and to witness her fervor for public schools, public libraries, and the children of our community. The Borough of Queens, and New York City as a whole, is a better place because of Helen Marshall’s leadership. She will be sorely missed.”
Marshall was born in Harlem on Sept. 29, 1929. A proud Queens College alum, Marshall was an ardent supporter of the City University of New York system. Prior to her career in public service, Marshall was a City public school teacher for eight years. After serving as the first director of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona, she represented the 35th Assembly District from 1983 to 1991, before succeeding Walter McCaffrey in the 21st District seat on the City Council.
“Helen Marshall was a kind, caring & dedicated public servant. She was a good friend. I used to refer to her as the Queen of Corona #RIP,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) wrote on Twitter.
Marshall served on the Council for 10 years. She ran for borough president in 2001, succeeding Claire Shulman, who was forced to step down due to term limits. Marshall was president of the World’s Borough for three four-year terms before she was succeeded by current BP Melinda Katz in 2014.
“Helen Marshall was a larger-than-life figure in the civic life of Queens and the State of New York. 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. “As the first African American borough president of Queens and only the second woman to be elected to the position, Helen was a trailblazer who inspired many to pursue public service. She was a deeply compassionate person who cared tremendously about the well- being of her fellow Queens residents. Her love of the borough was exceeded only by her love for her family, especially her devoted husband Donald, who passed away recently. Helen will be sorely missed and I extend my condolences and the condolences of the 2.3 million residents of Queens to Helen and Donald’s children, Donald Jr. and Agnes Marie, and to Helen’s entire family.”
Marshall, whose husband, Donald, died in January, is survived by her two children and a sister.
“Helen Marshall was an extremely compassionate person who served our borough well over a long period of time in a number of capacities,” long-time Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton told The Forum. “For me, one shining example of her concern and compassion for people was her arriving with no fanfare at my home to start working on [Superstorm] Sandy issues on Day 1 following the night of the storm. She always mentioned her service on her own community board whenever she commented on what led her to go on to serve the people as an Assembly member, Council member, and borough president. She will be missed by all who knew her.”