2017-03-08 / Front Page

Remembering Helen Marshall


It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Helen Marshall, my former boss and Queens Borough President for three terms.

Helen was a great lady who was kind, caring and compassionate. She had a great heart and a great interest in and enthusiasm for everyone. It has been said that if you met Helen, you liked Helen. It was that simple. She had a great smile, a quick laugh and a more than fair share of humility.

I remember coming back to Borough Hall with her one day, when a lady in the lobby ran up to Helen and told her that she was in a domestic violence situation and frightened. Helen took the woman upstairs with her, sat down in the borough president’s office and listened to her story. She then secured the help the woman needed. Another memory is personal. Helen and I were talking about the issue of crime. I related a story to her about how I came very close to being mugged on a subway platform. She stopped me in midstream and said that the story was scaring her so much that she had to sit down before listening to the end.

Helen was a great supporter of education and libraries. Following in the tradition of her predecessor, Claire Shulman, Helen allocated millions of dollars to libraries, including $16 million for the creation of her beloved Children’s Discovery Center at the main library in Jamaica. A former schoolteacher, Helen never lost her love for education, and worked hard to secure a school seat for every student. She also supported parks, playgrounds, cultural institutions and programs for senior citizens. She fought for immigrants and created the first Queens General Assembly, in an effort to show that the borough’s diverse population could always come together and find common goals fueled by understanding.

My favorite memory of Helen is her telling me a story about a young girl who approached her one year at the annual holiday party Helen threw for youngsters in December. The girl said that her brother could not make the party because he was not feeling well. Helen, who made certain each year that every child at the party received a gift, gave the girl a fire engine to take home to her brother. Years later, a young man approached Helen at that year’s party and said that while she would not remember him, he came to thank her for her kindness so many years ago. After chatting with the young man, Helen asked him what his occupation was, he proudly told her, “I am a firefighter, Mrs. Marshall.”

That was the kind of impact Helen had on people.

May she rest easy.

Dan Andrews was press secretary to Queens Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall over the course of 21 years. He was Mrs. Marshall’s press secretary for the entire 12 years of her three terms as borough president.

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