Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vaya Con Dios, Olga

Our dear friend Olga Mendez passed away yesterday, and we're gonna miss that raspy voice. Here's the details from the Borrero Report: "Sadly, The Borrero Report has confirmed the death of former State Senator Olga Méndez. According to her nephew, and primary caretaker for the past months, Eric Vazquez, “Titi [Auntie] died this morning at 1:10 AM in her East Harlem apartment.” There was a priest present, Padre Candido from East Harlem, who administered the last rites. Olga was a devout Roman Catholic."

Olga was a true original, and as City Room reports: "Olga A. Méndez, who was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the continental United States, and represented East Harlem and parts of the Bronx in the New York State Senate from 1979 to 2004, died at her home in East Harlem on Wednesday morning. She was 84."

Olga paved the way-and in many ways the elevation of Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was made possible by the path that Olga Mendez paved. There was no prouder Puerto Rican woman-and no one who defended the rights of Puerto Rican/Hispanic (that's the term she insisted we use) businesses like she did. In the mid-nineties, Olga joined forces with Antonio Pagan-who also was tragically taken from us this year-and fought against the Pathmark Super Center that was being proposed for East Harlem.

And she was a fierce fighter-taking on the Ford Foundation (whose arm LISC was sponsoring Pathmark) in a memorable confrontation on Third Avenue that those of us who were there will never forget. But even more than her fighting spirit, what distinguished Olga most was her kindness to those she cared about; and we remember with great affection her love and concern for Matthew and Rachele Lipsky.

So, vaya con Dios, Olga. We certainly hope that the heavenly host hasn't made the entire celestial area smoke free-because if they have, someone will just have to make an exception for a truly exceptional, one of a kind politician and a marvelous human being.