By Bill Parry
Nearly a thousand people paid their respects to Lily Gavin at Lynch’s Funeral Home in Sunnyside over the weekend. On Monday morning a long funeral procession, led by officers of the 108th Precinct, carried her casket west on Queens Boulevard, past Dazie’s her restaurant for more than 40 years.
The 85-year-old, who died July 6 after a long illness, was then driven through the streets of Sunnyside and east on the boulevard to her funeral mass at Our Lady Queens of Martyrs in Forest Hills, the community where she was a longtime resident.
Her grandson Christopher spoke for the family saying his grandmother was a tomboy growing up on the Lower East Side. “Not afraid of heights, she would climb out on the ledge of her building to watch the city at night,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), her friend and confidant for 32 years, eulogized Gavin, saying she had the smile of Cameron Diaz.
“She was just like a movie star, but she was our star,” he said. “She was the Queen of Sunnyside.”
Gavin was a waitress who saved her money and bought the restaurant in 1972 and it soon became the center of Sunnyside community life. She went on to become the president and chairwoman of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and one of the first women to be installed in the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club. She was the founding director of the LaGuardia Community College Foundation and sat on the board of the Sunnyside Shines business improvement district.
“She was not just a mother of five and a grandmother of five,” Crowley said. “She was a mother to all of Sunnyside.”
Gavin was involved deeply in Democratic politics, especially after the Donald Manes bribery scandal in 1986, when the five-time borough president resigned and killed himself days later.
“After the collapse of the Queens County Democratic Party Lily was a pillar of strength,” Crowley said. “She was our unsung hero during those tumultuous years — everyone talked to Lily.”
She went out of her way to support Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City), who became the youngest woman elected to state office in 1984. When Nolan announced her campaign for re-election to the 37th District last week, she did it at Dazie’s Restaurant.
“The loss of the great, irreplaceable Lily Gavin will be felt in our hearts forever,” Nolan said. “As a civic leader, Lily Gavin never said no to a needy cause. She gave generously of her time, her talents and her resources to all who asked and volunteered to help countless others. Lily always had a smile for those in trouble and an ear to all who needed someone to understand their problems. I personally benefitted from Lily’s wisdom many times over. Her advice, her inspiration, her brilliance, her beauty, her drive, her incredible personality were always phenomenal. I will miss her more than I can ever say.
Gavin’s smile graced the cover of her funeral program. On the back, there was a photo of her hero, Mother Teresa, with her quote, “In this life we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr