Longtime Riverdale resident and political activist Judith McGowan died Sept. 17, 2023, at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, with her husband Andrew by her side. She was 83.
She suffered a stroke last fall and, after a brief stay at Montefiore Hospital, spent the remainder of her last year as a Hebrew Home resident.
She was born in Astoria and married Andrew in 1963, settling in Astoria.
They moved to Kingsbridge in 1967 after their first son, Ian, was born. They lived on Sedgwick Avenue and, sometime after twin sons Peter and Sean were born in 1969, they moved to a house in North Riverdale.
She was a graduate of the Mary Louis Academy in Forest Hills, Hunter College, where she earned a bachelor of science, and Pratt Institute, where she earned a master of library science, she spent most of her professional life serving the children of New York City — first as a substitute teacher, and then as public school librarian.
One of her first jobs as a substitute was at Kennedy High School in the mid-1970s. In 1977, she became a librarian at the Bronx High School of Science, where she spent the majority of her career with the city’s education board.
In addition to creating a popular “Library Squad,” she mentored countless Bronx Science students — many of whom were the children of immigrants — in the challenging process of navigating college admissions. She stayed in touch with dozens of them over many years.
After she left Bronx Science, she worked at the district level, helping to create libraries in Bronx public schools — many that never had one.
In her personal life, she was a consummate political activist and organizer, and dedicated member of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club. She was an elected Democratic district leader for the 81st Assembly district between 1990 and 1996, and Democratic state committeewoman for the district between 2004 and 2008.
She also worked on numerous local political campaigns, including successful Assembly races for Oliver Koppell and Jeffrey Dinowitz, and the first congressional campaign of (now retired) U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel.
In the 1990s, she accompanied him on a trip to meet political figures in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
She appeared on a few television quiz shows in the 1970s, including “To Tell The Truth,” where she posed as a young woman who had been the only girl at an all-boys private school.
She hoped to win a new car to transport the growing family. Instead, on one show, she won a ride-on lawn mower, which wasn’t of much use to a family in a Kingsbridge apartment. She had it shipped instead to her doctor, who lived in a house in suburban New Jersey.
She is survived by her husband, three sons, her brother Owen May of Wisconsin. She is also survived by five grandchildren: Jack, Ryan, Sydney, Garrett and Brigid, as well as much-loved cousins, nieces and nephews.
Her remains will be interred at Calvary Cemetery in a private family ceremony Nov. 18. The family hopes to have a memorial event sometime after that, probably next spring.