Lew M. Simon will not be forgotten. Through a cold, blustery afternoon, more than 100 people came out to the Beach 108th hockey rink on Sunday, November 14 to remember the late Assembly District Leader with a celebration of his life.
Shortly after the news of Lew Simon’s unexpected death on November 6, some of his closest friends, Lisa George, who for 13 years has taught Zumba Under the Stars at the hockey rink with the help of Simon, co-Assembly District Leader Jeanette Garramone, the Rockaway Rockies and Annie Mohan of the Campaign Against Hunger, quickly put together a memorial program that Simon himself would have loved. Despite the cold, many came out to share their condolences and memories of a man who will not soon be forgotten by the Rockaway community and beyond.
Even mayor-elect Eric Adams came out to share some words for the friend he knew for nearly 40 years. “Lew meant so much to me and to all of you. He was an authentic, real, caring, kind person that really personified what many people miss and that’s our district leaders. When you take an unpaid job and all the heat, all the criticism but you’re out there all the time, it just means a lot,” Adams said.
An opening prayer was led by Evangelist Lynette Shelbourne-Barfield, who knew Simon since middle school.
Many spoke of Lew with some tongue-in-cheek remarks, something Simon was known for doing himself. As Senator James Sanders said, “Those of us who love the Rockaways, you had to love Lew Simon. Lew sometimes would make you work for that love, but you ended up loving him anyway because the passion for loving this place was so tight on this guy that you said to yourself, this guy might conceivably love the Rockaways more than me. That was Lew Simon. I’m reminded of an Irish expression—'love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me’ and no one could ignore Lew Simon.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who knew Lew for 30 years said, “It was fascinating how people described Lew because it was always with a but. ‘I love that guy, but…’ or ‘He’s not my cup of tea, but there’s no one that fights more for their community than Lew Simon.’ There’s no one that could doubt that he loved this neighborhood and this community more than anything else in the world.”
Lisa George spoke of Simon’s activism and efforts to bring Zumba to the hockey rink, which she promised she will continue in his memory. She also said she’d continue some other lessons he taught her. “What would Lew want us to do? He would still want us to fight together as a community. Never let anyone tell you that it can’t be done,” she said. “Those are the things I will continue to fight for, and I will do it the way Lew Simon would’ve done it—make a lot of noise.”
Garramone said, “Lew was more than just my co-leader. We were family. He had a heart of gold. Whether we agreed with his intentions or not, whether we thought he was fighting the right fight, he fought for what he believed in 100% no matter what,” she said. She reminded people of the poem, “The Dash” and asked everyone to remember Lew not for his birth and death, but the dash in between—what he did while he was here.
Between speeches, there were performances in tribute to Lew. Vikki Labban sang a beautiful, a cappella rendition of “Jealous of the Angels” and Justin Hunte performed an impassioned dance to “I Need You Now.” Several other elected officials were on hand to pay tribute including Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, former Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, new Councilwoman-elect Joann Ariola and even officials from other districts, Assemblyman David Weprin, who knew Simon for 30 years, and new Assemblywoman Jennifer Rajkumar, who only met him a year ago.
At the ceremony, Rajkumar presented a citation and Senator Sanders presented a proclamation to honor Simon posthumously. At the ceremony was Rachel Levy, a family friend of Simon’s, who accepted the accolades on behalf of the Simon family. “I know it’s a shock to the community and we lost such an advocate and such an amazing person and someone near and dear to my heart. It is shocking. No one saw this coming, and he didn’t see this coming and I’m sorry for everyone’s loss. I know we’ve all lost so much over the last year and coming here today for this one man, I know how much it means to him and his family and to me and I want to say thank you,” she said.
Other speakers included Renee Hastick-Motes of St. John’s Hospital, Felicia Johnson of Community Board 14, Kenichi Wilson of Community Board 9, Kathy Heavey of the 100th Precinct Community Council, Bobby Keane of the Rockaway Rockies, Judge Jodi Orlow Mackoff, who sponsored the large printed photos of Simon, Judge Scott Dunn, Joe Caruana of the Our Neighbors Civic in Ozone Park and Dolores Orr of Community Board 14, who left the audience with a task. “We want to be a warrior like Lew was. I hope everyone going forward, to honor Lew, does this—start by doing what’s necessary, then, do what’s possible and suddenly we will be doing the impossible. In honor of Lew, let’s go forward with that marching order.”
The ceremony concluded with Jaden Gabb singing "Amazing Grace," while the crowd lit electronic candles, followed by a closing prayer led by Pastor David Cockfield. To lighten the heaviness, Lisa George and her Zumba crew led a dance to Lew’s favorite song, "Danza Kuduro," and everyone was then given a biodegradable balloon to send to heaven in memory of Lew Simon.
By Katie McFadden
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