Former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison of Flushing died on Aug. 3 following an illness; she was 97.
Born June 10, 1920, in Rochester NY, the public figure moved to New York City with her family years later. After marrying Joseph Harrison in 1954, she moved to Flushing and lived in a co-op in the neighborhood until her death.
After working for many years as a civic activist, Harrison began her political life in 1968 when she worked in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. In 1972, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Flushing’s Queens College was elected Democratic District Leader.
She served as a New York City Councilwoman for the 19th District, which later became what is known today as the 20th District, from 1986 to 2001. She left when newly enacted term-limit regulations forced her to give up her seat. Previously, she represented the 26th District in the New York State Assembly from 1984 to 1985.
Harrison’s daughter, Susan, said her mother was a “staunch Democrat.”
“She supported a women’s right to choose and also fought in the civil rights era and against the Vietnam War,” Harrison said. “She worked very hard on senior citizen issues, healthcare in particular, not only for poor seniors, but for children. She was a fighter for good schools and education. She started as president of the PTA in the 1950’s. She also fought for acupuncture as a unique treatment for drug addiction.”
In 1996, Julia Harrison faced backlash when a New York Times article quoted her making a series of anti-Asian remarks. In a 2011 article in the New York Daily News, the then-91-year-old said her words were “twisted and spun.”
The child of immigrants herself, Susan Harrison said her mother was deeply devoted to immigrant rights.
“She understood the immigrant experience and wanted Flushing to be a welcoming environment,” Harrison said.
On a personal level, Harrison said her mother “was not one to mince words.”
“She told it like it was, whether you wanted to hear it or not. [She was] outspoken, and had a great sense of humor,” Harrison said. “A very loving and compassionate person.”
Harrison, who spent time with her mother in the hospital over the last few weeks, said she was amazed at how many people came by and spoke about their connection to Julia. Some even told her that Harrison served as a mother to them, too.
“She gave personal guidance to a variety of people,” Harrison said. “She loved music — music was very important to her — and she loved dancing.”
Julia Harrison is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The family will be welcoming friends into Harrison’s Flushing apartment on Aug. 16 and 17, beginning at 2 p.m. There will also be a memorial service on Aug. 18 at the Quinn-Forgerty Funeral Home at 192-15 Northern Blvd. A private burial will be held.