Sunnyside mourns loss of longtime civic leader Lily Gavin

Sunnyside loses its longtime civic leader Lily Gavin after a long illness. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer called her a strong woman, an entrepreneur, a bridge builder and at times a peacemaker.
By Bill Parry

Sunnyside lost one of its great advocates Wednesday when Lily Gavin died following a long illness. Gavin owned Dazie’s Restaurant, a neighborhood landmark since 1972, which was a frequent center of the neighborhood’s civic life.

Her age was not known. Gavin was predeceased by her husband Sonny and survived by many children and grandchildren

“You really can’t imagine how this community will continue without her,” former Community Board Chairman Joe Conley said. “But the community will continue on and be better for her. She really was a giant in the community. Her door was always open and you always had a seat at the table with her.”

Gavin was a longtime Forest Hills resident, but the late civic leader Luke Adams would often say “that woman is Sunnyside.” The two of them were responsible for restoring the iconic Sunnyside Arch in 2005 after it had fallen into disrepair.

Seth Bornstein, the executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, came to know Gavin during the restoration and they had remained close friends ever since.

“She was the most gracious, incredible woman in all of Queens,” he said.

Gavin was also the first woman inducted into the Kiwanis Club and she served as president and chair of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. She was also a supporter of the Sunnyside Drum Corps.

“Lily would always say bring the kids in, I’ll cook them spaghetti,” Drum Corps founder Tony Lana said about her reign at Dazie’s . “She was a motherly figure in all of our lives, always asking what she could do to help. Many don’t know this ,but she was a waitress there and she saved up enough to buy it and later expand it. What a loss for the community.”

Gavin was also honorary director of the LaGuardia Community College Foundation and served as a trustee of the Queens Library.

“I’m truly saddened to hear of the passing of Lily Gavin and I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to her family during this very difficult time,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “For decades, Lily’s incredible presence was deeply appreciated throughout the Sunnyside community. She was more than just the owner of a beloved local restaurant. Lily believed in giving back to the neighborhood and working to make Queens an even better place to live. She was a dear friend, a confidant, a mentor and conciliator. Her impact will continue to be felt and she will be sorely missed.”

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and his husband Dan Hendrick were frequent customers.

“For decades, the name Lily Gavin has been synonymous with Sunnyside,” Van Bramer said. “Lily didn’t just own Dazie’s fine Italian restaurant on Queens Boulevard — she presided over it with love and care for all who dined there. And if her interest in the neighborhood ended at the entrance to Dazie’s, she’d still be a legend. But it didn’t end there, of course. Lily was a force in just about every commercial, civic and political event in Sunnyside for so long, that few can remember a time before Lily and Dazie’s.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said Gavin was much more than a restaurant owner.

“She was an influential figure who contributed to the character of Sunnyside and will be deeply missed,” he said. “Lily was greatly admired by our Sunnyside community and her memory will always be with us.”

Dorothy Morehead, a longtime Sunnyside Gardens real estate broker and member of Community Board 2 for more than two decades, knew Lily Gavin hadn’t been doing well for some time.

“I feel like I knew Lily for a million years,” she said. “She has been a pillar of the community around here for so many decades, and I might add, her restaurant has the best Italian food in the entire neighborhood.”

Gavin’s wake will be held just a few blocks from her restaurant at Lynch’s Funeral Home, located at 43-07 Queens Blvd., Saturday and Sunday between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Her funeral will be at Queens of Martyrs Monday at 11 p.m. at 110-06 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the LaGuardia Community College Foundation, at 31-10 Thomson Ave. Room #E508, Long Island City, NY 11101. Please indicate that the gift is for the Lily Gavin Scholarship Fund.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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