Mary Powell, 91, Leaves Behind Legacy Of Local Activism

(l. to r.): Mary Powell, Pastor Ron Weinbaum of the King's Chapel, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Ed Jaworski at MMHCA's 2009 Holiday Party

Mary Powell, the long-time president of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association, passed away on February 12 at Beth Israel Hospital/Kings Highway Division as a result of a stroke suffered on February 9.

Born September 17, 1918 , Brooklyn native Mary Quinn Powell set an example of dignity and dogged determination that was inspirational to all who knew her throughout her 91 years.

Early suffering did little to temper Powell’s spirit. As a child, she survived a bout with tuberculosis and being in a coma after getting hit by a car. At 11 years old, she lost her beloved oldest brother to blood poisoning after a strep infection.  Still, she graduated from Manual Training High School (now John Jay) and went on to attend community college while she began working in New York.  When her family moved upstate, she stayed in Brooklyn to work and carve out a life of her own, despite family protests of a young woman living alone.  She was not alone for long, as she married within the next few years and began to raise a family while continuing to work at companies like Lederle Labs.

She found her calling in 1958, when she went to work as a clerk at Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW). There she became a union representative for workers of 1199 (now SEIU), the Drug and Hospital Workers Union.  Known for her compassion and skillful negotiation in settling disputes between workers and the School of Social Work, she managed the CUSSW mail room for nearly 40 years and won the admiration of Columbia graduate students that ended up working in all corners of the globe.

Her eagerness to solve problems captured the attention of the faculty as well. They were amazed when the school’s book store closed in 1969 and Powell filled the void by creating her own company, University Book Service, to help students and faculty get the books they needed.

Powell also used her organizational and leadership skills to enhance the Brooklyn neighborhoods in which she lived.  She founded the Erasmus neighborhood association in Flatbush during the 1970’s and most recently served as the long-running president of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Neighborhood Civic Association.  She earned state, federal, and local grants to beautify and protect those neighborhoods. She worked tirelessly with other committed citizens to recruit and retain members of the organizations she served. She also served as an officer for the New York chapter of the national Older Women’s League, where she organized educational and political dialogue focused on empowering older women to live their lives as they wish.

While proud of her work for Columbia, 1199, and her voluntary work with her neighborhood and national associations, Powell was most proud of the family she raised.  Predeceased by her husband Gilbert in 1973 after over 30 years of marriage, their seven children went on to become teachers and academic administrators, military officers, a NYC Police Detective, a dancer, business managers, and real estate professionals and blessed Mary with 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Mary is survived by her daughter Maureen McKenna of Surprise, AZ, sons James of Staten Island, Michael of Enfield, CT, Bruce of Silver Lake, PA, and Richard of Mt Laurel, NJ.  She also leaves behind brothers James Quinn of Chestnut Ridge, NY, and John “Red” Quinn of San Diego, CA, and her dear younger sister Catherine of Hendersonville, NC.

Interested members of the community may attend a wake at Marine Park Funeral Home (3024 Quentin Road at Marine Parkway) on Sunday, February 14, from 7 to 9 p.m. and Monday, February 15, from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral mass will be given at Good Shepherd Church (1950 Batchelder Street at Avenue S) on Tuesday, February 16, at 10 a.m. Powell will be interred at Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island.