Helen Marshall died in her new home of California. She was 87 years old.
Marshall was first elected borough president in 2001 after a long career in public service, including ten years in the City Council and eight in the Assembly.
The former educator was remembered as a strong advocate for libraries during her three terms as borough president. As the city repeatedly slashed library budgets, Marshall steered tens of millions of dollars of her discretionary funding to the borough’s institutions.
At the December opening of the Elmhurst Library following a $32.4 million renovation, current Borough President Melinda Katz recognized her predecessor’s role in the project.
“Helen Marshall was a larger-than-life figure in the civic life of Queens and the State of New York,” Katz said in a statement following news of her death. “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.”
During her 12 years in office, Marshall was also a champion of the borough’s diversity and the rich cultural heritage that comes with it.
In September, the $23 million, 11,000-square-foot atrium at Borough Hall, a project Marshall spearheaded, was renamed the Helen Marshall Cultural Center.
"New York City will miss her deeply, but her memory will live forever in the libraries, schools, and neighborhoods she uplifted and in the many hearts she touched," said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement.
Marshall was born in Harlem in 1929. She eventually found her way to East Elmhurst, where she was a community activist before entering politics.
“Our borough lost one of its biggest champions, but she will continue to live on in our hearts and her presence will continue to be felt throughout the countless communities she touched,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley. “In her more than three decades of public service she broke barriers, embraced the strength of our diversity, and guided our borough through unprecedented growth.”
She is survived by two children, Donald Jr. and Agnes Marie. Her husband Donald Marshall passed away in January.