Memorial For Mary Spink Sunday; Sharing More Memories of a Tireless Community Activist

Photo courtesy: LES People's Mutual Housing Association.

A short time ago we received details about the memorial service for Mary Spink, the widely respected and loved community activist who died earlier this week. On Monday, she lost an extended battle against a failing liver and kindeys, passing away at Beth Israel Hospital, at the age of 64. The service will take place Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Cooper Union (7th Street & 3rd Avenue).

Throughout the week, we’ve been receiving heartfelt emails about Mary and talking with community leaders about a woman who showed remarkable courage in overcoming life’s obstacles and making a real difference in a neighborhood she loved.

Lower East Side Girls Club event. Photo courtesy: Office of Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The other day, Councilmember Rosie Mendez,  a close friend, shared some of her thoughts about Mary, who was executive director of Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association and served on the boards of many non-profit organizations.  “She had a sharp tongue and a big heart,”  Mendez said.  She noted that Mary was not afraid to discuss her demons, including drug addiction. At some point, Mendez explained, Mary’s eyes were opened, she turned her life around and became all about “non-stop giving to her community.”

The two women got to know each other well through the LES People’s Federal Credit Union, where Mary was a longtime board member.  This past summer, Mendez accompanied her to the organization’s 25th anniversary celebration, one of her last public appearances.  It was very tough for her to get around and they arrived late, after all of the speeches had ended. But everyone was thrilled to see Mary there, and she was “the star of the show.”  Mendez explained that “an incredible inner strength and resilience kept her going.”

Mary Spink with good friend and boiler expert Henry Gifford. Photo courtesy: LES People's Mutual Housing Association.

Mary devoted decades of her life to fighting for affordable housing, especially for the Lower East Side’s poorest residents (Mary was once homeless herself). As a member of Community Board 3, she was one of the first affordable housing advocates to come out in support of a compromise to build 50% affordable/50% market rate housing on the Seward Park redevelopment site.  It was a gut wrenching decision, she said at the time, but the best the community could hope for.

Dominic Pisciotta, CB3 Chair, said, “I regret that Mary did not have the opportunity to be with us for our final vote on the ULURP (land use application) for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. She worked very hard and her dedication positively impacted many in our community. Her contributions and our memory of them will be recognized as we move forward with the issues she cared about.”

Rosie Mendez, Mary Spink, Daniel Squadron, Susan Stetzer.

Another good friend, CB3 District Manager Susan Stezer, traveled with Mary last year to Albany, where State Senator Daniel Squadron named her a “Woman of Distinction.”  In an email message this week, she told us Mary’s death leaves a huge hole in the community. “She cared and she was strong and good and honest.  She did not sit around and talk; she made things happen and spent an enormous amount of time and energy changing lives for people in her community—that was her life,” Stetzer said.  Squadron added today,  “I am lucky to have known Mary, and our community is lucky to have had her. Stories and commitment to the community like hers are rare and a unique inspiration.”

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, in a statement, Mary “worked tirelessly on behalf of our community, creating affordable housing, empowering young people through her work with the Lower East Side Girls Club and, of course, devoting her time and her talents to serve on Community Board 3. Mary was truly one of the Lower East Side’s bright lights and her strong dedication to our neighborhood will be sorely missed.”

Mary could be a very tough customer. This week, Felix Salmon, the Reuters financial blogger and reporter, called her a “formidable LES legend.”  In a twitter message, he added, “I was petrified of her, more than any Wall Street hard man.”

Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council may have put it best in a tribute sent around earlier today. “I was a friend of Mary Spink, not least because her tough and assertive stance practically demanded it,” he said. It was during occasional disagreements, Papa continued, that he appreciated Mary the most. “Those were the times when her unfaltering positions – so demonstratively expressed – could not have inspired us more in joining her unflinching commitment toward improving the lives of the many people and families she served,” he said.

 

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