8 DECEMBER 24, 2020 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
Queens mourns loss of prominent fi gures
BY BILL PARRY
While 2020 was filled with loss amid
the COVID-19 pandemic, Queens said
goodbye to several prominent figures
throughout the year.
From a former borough president, to a dynamic
political icon, to a sports legend with Queens
roots, the list of those who passed away in 2020
includes some big names.
Queens lost a towering figure in 2020 when
Claire Shulman, the first woman to serve as
Queens borough president, died in August at
the age of 94 after battling lung and pancreatic
In her 16 years in office, Shulman changed the
way Queens ran its government following the
Donald Manes scandal at Borough Hall in 1986
and ushered the borough into an era of unprecedented
growth and economic revitalization.
Once a registered nurse during World War
II, Shulman became president of the Bayside
Mothers Club and oversaw the renovation of
her children’s school and was named by Manes
as his director of community boards in 1972,
becoming his deputy in 1980 before replacing
him by a unanimous City Council vote in
Shulman’s style of government depended
on her leadership and the strength of her staff
which featured future leaders such as former
Assemblywoman Marge Markey, current Queens
District Attorney Melinda Katz and Councilman
“Claire stepped into the breach in 1986 and
quickly righted the ship of state, giving the
people of Queens the best government they ever
had,” Grodenchik recalled.
Looking back on her track record, Shulman
said luring the film industry to western Queens
was one of her greatest accomplishments.
“We got the 5 1/2 acres from the federal government
for $1,” she said in a 2014 interview regarding
the founding of the Kaufman Astoria Studios.
“From zero dollars to $9 billion is not bad at all.”
Shulman worked until her final days as president
of the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local
Development Corp. which oversaw the Special
Flushing Waterfront District.
Queens lost another dynamic political icon in
2020 when Archie Spigner died at 92 in October.
Known as “the godfather of politics,” Spigner
represented southeast Queens as a longtime
councilman and distinct leader.
State Senator Leroy Comrie called Spigner a
“transformative figure in civics, government and
politics” who was responsible as “anyone else
alive today for making Black representation in
government a reality.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng remembered
Spigner as a “trailblazer and titan who fought
to represent the lies he represented.”
Spigner represented southeast Queens on the
City Council from 1974 to 2001, the last 15 of those
years as the deputy to the majority leader Peter
Queens lost several prominent fi gures throughout 2020. File photos
Queens said goodbye to another leader in former
PFLAG President Anne Quashen, who died
in April at age 88. She served as the leader of the
Queens chapter of the organization that advocates
for gay people and their families.
Councilman Daniel Dromm recalled Quashen
as a “model LGBTQ activist” who dedicated “25
years of her life to providing emotional support
and other resources to family members of LGBTQ
people who chose to live their lives openly at a
time it was not possible to do so.”
The borough’s business community mourned
the loss of longtime Plaxall President Andrew
Kirby for always “doing what’s best” for Long
Island City when he passed.
Kirby was a key figure in the transformation
of the once-gritty industrial area it was to the nation’s
fastest-growing neighborhoods it is now,
Kirby served on the board of directors at the
Long Island City Partnership. He was 66.
From the world of sports, Yankees pitching
legend and Astoria native Whitey Ford died in
October at age 91.
Known as the “Chairman of the Board,” Ford
was a six-time World Series champion, 1961 Cy
Young winner and World Series MVP, plus a 10-
time all-star for the Yankees from 1950 to 1967 who
put his career on hold to fight in the U.S. Army
during the Korean War from 1951 to 1952.
Astoria bid farewell to another war veteran
when “local legend” Luke Gasparre died in February
at age 95.
At the young age of 18, Gasparre trained to
become a soldier and was assigned to the 87th
Infantry Division that was tasked with breaking
through the German lines during World War II.
He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which was
the highest casualty operation in the European
At one point, Gasparre was in combat for five
straight months earning seven medals including
the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Upon his return
to Astoria, Gasparre worked for the postal service
for 34 years and to make ends meet he took a job
as an usher for the New York Mets for 55 years,
the most ever in the Mets organization. He was
also a ticket taker and usher at the U.S. Open for
more than 40 years.
Gasparre also served as the longtime leader of
the Tamiment Democratic Club in Astoria and was
also a member of various other civic groups.
Fresh Meadows native Philip Kahn was another
member of the Greatest Generation that died in
Kahn was a combat veteran of the Battle of
Iwo Jima before serving s a chief flight engineer
and co-pilot on a B-29 Superfortress during the
months-long firebombing of Tokyo and performed
aerial surveying of the damage done by the atomic
bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and
Kahn died of COVID-19 at age 100, a century
after his twin brother succumbed to the Spanish
flu soon after his death in 1919.
DR. JIMMY HEATH
The Queens cultural community mourned the
loss of jazz pioneer Dr. Jimmy Heath at age 93.
The longtime Corona resident’s career began
during the big-band era through bebop and fusion
during his seven decades of jazz history. Heath
was a tenor saxophonist who played in bands led
by Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Ray
Charles, Wynton Marsalis and many others.
In 2003, the National Endowment of the Arts
named him a Jazz Master and he went on to be a
composer and professor of music at the Aaron
Copland School of Music at Queens College for two
decades, where he helped launch the jazz studies
program in 1986.
Heath went by the nickname “Little Bird” in
reference to fellow jazz legend Charlie Parker. In
1993, his “Little Man, Big Band” album was nominated
for a Grammy Award.
2020 YEAR IN REVIEW