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Chelsea Now: Friends Recall the Fierce Commitment of Doris Corrigan

By Scott Stiffler, July 29

Doris Corrigan died at The Amsterdam Nursing Home on July 23, 2015. She was 87. A public memorial service will be held in the fall, where we all can celebrate her life. The following represents a portion of the testimonials and reminiscences we have received over the past week:

Every thriving community and every enduring organization has one — the person who relishes learning what it really takes to get things done; the person who rolls up her sleeves and gets her hands dirty whenever there’s work, no matter how apparently menial and unpleasant; the person who persuades other people that it’s fun to do all these things, patiently teaches them the ropes and encourages them to start taking the lead.

For over 30 years, Doris Corrigan was that person in Chelsea, and in many of its grassroots organizations. Soon after she moved to the neighborhood, she got involved in the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC). Within a few years, she was the Club’s president, a post she was to hold for an unprecedented five years. In the late 1980s, Doris began a decade-long stint as District Leader. She then went on to serve as Democratic State Committeewoman for 16 years. After she stepped down, CRDC initiated an award to be given biennially in her honor.

Doris was a fiercely progressive fighter for social justice on a huge range of issues. When she took on a cause (or a candidate), she was a tireless campaigner who loved to engage in direct — and sometimes heated — debates.  Doing right was critically important to her, and every organization she was involved with came to value her as its conscience. She worked hard for the community, advocating for the completion of the Chelsea Recreation Center and the building of Chelsea Waterside Park. She also served for many years as president of the West 20th Street Block Association.

Driven by relentless curiosity, Doris was rarely without a thick book and the latest copies of Chelsea Now and The New York Times. She loved to ride her bicycle along the West Side Highway and continued to marvel at how a beautiful park emerged from an industrial wasteland.

Steven Skyles-Mulligan

Democratic District Leader, 75th AD Part A, on behalf of the CRDC

Some years ago, Doris’s old gray cat passed away, leaving her in grief and loneliness, though she would never own up to it. A few months after, I found myself dealing with a homeless man who set up sleeping quarters on my roof landing — a gentle, harmless fellow, down on his luck but devoted to his little orange cat, who lived in his backpack. When I was forced to evict him, he left his backpack, cat and all, hanging from a hook in my basement, with a plea to care for it until he was able to get housing.

I asked Doris if she would foster the cat for a few days, and she reluctantly agreed, even accommodating his request for visitation rights (which she accommodated over the next few weeks). Then he stopped calling. Doris made peace with the little orange kitten, Sunshine, and cared for him for the rest of his life.

Doris came into my life, and the life of our community, in the late 1970s, on a sunny day in June in the middle of our annual Block Association street fair — a tiny figure in a pink sun bonnet, asking if she could help. I assigned her to the flea market table, which she took over with typical zeal, selling just about everything we had to offer. She worked the table with Irene Lohsen, and they became fast friends. When Irene’s building co-oped in 1982, Doris bought the shares for her apartment. She became not just Irene’s landlord, but her devoted caregiver until Irene’s passing many, many years later.

These stories are personal memories.  I leave to others the many tales of Doris’s good works as a civic leader and eternal booster of our beloved Chelsea.

Pamela Wolff

Chelsea West 200 Block Association

Doris Corrigan sets up a petitioning table for getting local candidates on the 2010 ballot. Photo by Donathan Salkaln.

If one word described Doris, it was loyalty. It is hard to remember when I first met Doris because she was already there. Doris was there when we started Chelsea Waterside Park Association. She came to work for me at the old Chelsea Clinton News. She was there for all the community battles: General Theological Seminary, keeping a stadium from being built in the West 30s, getting sanitation truck garages from other districts out of Chelsea, and Chelsea Market. Though very quiet, Doris was well-schooled in every issue. She is a great loss to Chelsea and a greater loss to all who knew her and loved her.

Robert Trentlyon

Doris Corrigan represented the best of Chelsea, in health and in sickness. When she was well, she was a hardworking State Committeewoman and no-nonsense political operator for decades in the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club whose support was crucial to neighborhood causes and successful political campaigns — including my own for State Senate. Her illness, too, brought out the finest in our community.

As Doris declined, a battery of neighbors organized to look after her, led by Laura Morrison, my and Tom Duane’s former chief of staff, and Tom Schuler, the male Democratic District Leader for Chelsea. They helped Doris handle everything from the mundane (food shopping) to the complicated (estate planning), which enabled Doris to stay in the comfort and familiarity of her own home much longer than would have been possible otherwise.

It’s a tribute to Chelsea that neighbors look out for each other, just like Doris did for the community for so many years, and Laura, Tom and others did for Doris during her time of need. May she rest in peace.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman

Fierce and forceful, kind and generous, Doris will always be with me. She was my mentor, teaching me real world tools for community organizing, running campaigns, leading an organization, and most importantly, how to stay true to one’s self and one’s ideals in the course of all of the above. We worked together on local, state, and national issues.

Her car — a banged up blue Ford Escort with a trunk that was overflowing with all sorts of stuff New Yorkers seldom have room for — was the community car, often borrowed for political activity and just as often for weekend getaways. We also used it to transport flowers for planting in the tree pits of the West 200 blocks.

Doris was also infamous for her short stature, and her short temper that went with it. She was an impatient, yet thorough teacher. She was our go-to person, who knew everything and got it all done. The strongest adjective that leaps from me in describing her is generous. I am so thankful for all she taught me and all we shared. I miss my friend, Doris.

Kathy Kinsella

Former President, CRDC

Doris Corrigan and Christine Quinn campaign with Hillary Clinton for Clinton’s successful US Senate run in 2000 (background, L to R: Dick Gottfried and Tom Duane).

I join the Chelsea community in mourning the death of Doris Corrigan, well-known as a strong and effective voice for the community and for progressive politics. She was outspoken, and never afraid of a fight — or whom she was fighting. And backing down wasn’t her style.

Doris was an important advocate for parks and public open space. She was a true partner in helping to establish the Hudson River Park, Chelsea Waterside Park, the Chelsea Recreation Center and countless other community efforts. She was a champion of the economically disadvantaged and least powerful members of society; and a relentless and dedicated political activist devoted to the peace movement and progressive principles, particularly within the Democratic Party — nationally and locally. Whether it was speaking out for nuclear disarmament or fighting for affordable housing, Doris Corrigan was always found in the thick of the action.

I knew and worked with Doris for over 30 years. In everything she did — whether serving on Community Board 4 or as the president of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, and later as Chelsea’s Democratic District Leader and then Democratic State Committee Member — Doris Corrigan was always forceful and energetic and fought for what she believed.

She was an extraordinary person who truly made a difference. I will miss her.

New York State Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried

Doris Corrigan was an amazing individual! For nearly 25 years, she was a neighbor, friend, confidante and mentor. For many years Doris, Tim Gay (District Leader), Harriet Riggs (CRDC, President/District Leader) and I would meet on Saturday mornings at the old Moonstruck Diner. We would discuss neighborhood concerns, Club issues and politics in general. It was fascinating to see Doris in action. She came in with a list of tasks for all of us to accomplish for the week, and she expected us to complete them.

Even more impressive is that while these gatherings usually started at 10 a.m., Doris had already been out and about in Chelsea, weeding tree pits, planting flowers or raking leaves somewhere, and at times, I recall she even painted the checkers/chess tables at the former Thomas Smith Park. She set an example for all us and made us better neighbors. She is so missed by all of us.

Tom Schuler

Former District Leader, CRDC

Doris and I were housesitting for some mutual friends who had abandoned Chelsea and taken up residence in Rhinebeck. Doris took her car (which, as many may know was justly called a “jalopy”) and drove up to their new home. We had a wonderful weekend in their home, which was in sight of a lovely pond, home to two sweet swans. We dined at some delightful restaurants, sipped scrumptious martinis at a Saturday night dinner out. All was lovely. And then, Sunday evening, we took off for our homes in Chelsea, Doris driving.

And we drove…and drove…and about two hours later, we somehow ended up closer to Rhinebeck than our homes in Chelsea. As we all know, Doris does not take this sort of situation with equanimity. Somehow I managed to keep comments to a bare minimum. With both of us studying the road maps (almost a guarantee we’d end up in Canada), we did somehow see the lights of Chelsea that same day.

But that was Doris: energized to take on loads of commitment — and somehow reaching her goals by whatever means necessary, however mysterious.

Gloria Sukenick

I’m incredibly saddened by the passing of Doris Corrigan. Doris literally was Chelsea — she was involved in every major community win and every battle over the last generation. We can thank Doris for her leadership related to Chelsea Waterside Park, for fighting to preserve affordable housing and for inspiring others to be of service. Her longtime leadership in the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club as a Democratic District Leader and as a Democratic State Committeewoman helped foster a generation of progressive leadership that fights for New York City’s most vulnerable.

I joined CRDC in 2002 and I still remember Doris calling every election year to see if I could close a poll for the club. Doris Corrigan’s legacy of service will resonate throughout our community for many years to come. Chelsea will miss her deeply, but we will never forget the impact she made on our lives.

District 3 City Councilmember Corey Johnson

City Council President Christine Quinn, right, presents Bob Trentlyon, Doris Corrigan and the Chelsea Waterside Park Association the Hudson Guild's 2010 Community Service Award. Photo by Donathan Salkaln.

For well over 30 years, Doris Corrigan embodied the spirit of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association and Chelsea Reform Democratic Club. She was a leader and a workhorse, with an engine that never broke down. Setting up petition tables in order to get caring and sincere candidates on the ballot, filling buildings with political and park literature, organizing and setting up political and park functions — that’s just a small sampling of all she did. Doris also edited and mailed newsletters for both the CRDC and CWPA, regularly informing members of political and park updates.

It was the advice of Tom Duane’s office (to nurse my “hangover” after helping the Westside Neighborhood Alliance defeat the Jets Stadium proposal) that brought me to a CRDC meeting in 2005. I met Doris, a greeter at the door. She soon had me writing for her CRDC newsletter and, years later, taking on more and more of her invaluable responsibilities when her gears began slipping.

Doris was bossy and had a sharp tongue that could whip you to your knees. She also had no tolerance for “lazy” people, nor did she like procrastinating writers for her newsletters. She even had a trained cat named Sunshine who, I believe, once scratched someone for not paying attention at a meeting held at her apartment.

Donathan Salkaln

Communications Chair, CRDC / Secretary, CWPA

 From the Facebook Page of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club:

Doris Corrigan was one of the first people I met here in Chelsea some 38 years ago. She seemed to be at every meeting I attended and I know she was involved in a whole lot more! Must have gone to a meeting four nights a week for decades! Doris had an immeasurably positive impact on Chelsea and it surrounding communities. Her legacy will live on. So happy I saw her at the holiday party last year, where some thoughtful person had brought a birthday cake for her. Hard to imagine Chelsea without Doris Corrigan. You were cherished Doris & will be missed by your friends & your beloved neighborhood. Chelsea is shedding a tear today. Peace for all eternity to you.

Dianna Maeurer, CRDC member

A sad news to all those that new Doris. She was not only a true Democrat but also a decent human being. Opened her home to the NYS Democratic Party State Committee Manhattan Reform Caucus for meetings were important resolutions were drafted and many reforms were made that impacts our Party’s platform and rules. She was unique. My sympathy to all New York Democrats not only to the Westsiders.

Maria Luna

Democratic State Committeewoman and District Leader, 71st AD

 Leave your mark where others can only dream on going…that was our Doris — for many years the President of Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, our District Leader and State Committeewoman. Small in size but a giant of a woman, Doris, the trailblazer, will be sorely missed. While I came to know Doris only later in her life, her ability to mentor effective District Leaders, such as Tom Schuler and Mary Dorman, lives, as I follow in their footsteps as Female District Leader of Chelsea. She is a legend!!!

Sylvia E. Di Pietro

Democratic District Leader, 75th AD, Part A

—Compiled by Scott Stiffler