We Remember: New Yorkers share stories of loss, light, and love during the COVID pandemic

Posted On Thu, March 11, 2021 By

Posted On Thu, March 11, 2021 By In City Living, Features, People

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

There’s no way to describe this past year in words. We can list all the adjectives–painful, scary, hopeful, etc.–but no combination can truly articulate what it meant to be a New Yorker during the COVID-19 pandemic. This Sunday, the city will mark March 14–one year since NYC lost its first resident to the virus–with an official day of remembrance for the nearly 30,000 city residents who passed away. For our part, we decided to speak with our fellow New Yorkers and ask who or what they would like to remember on this somber anniversary. It might be someone they’ve lost, someone who did something heroic, or a larger group or event that played a role. And with these raw stories, we think we can describe this year, through all the feelings that can never be put into words.

THOSE WE’VE LOST

Elizabeth and her mother

Broker Elizabeth H. O’Neill of Warburg Realty
I will be remembering the most unselfish person I have ever met and the one I love the most, my mom. I will be remembering how desperately I wanted to save her.

NYC Councilwoman Carlina Rivera
On this Day of Remembrance, I honor the memory of Judy Richheimer, a fierce community advocate, champion of New York City small businesses, and premier tour guide. We lost Judy almost a year ago, in the early days of the pandemic’s assault on our communities. Judy was a beloved member and president of her neighborhood’s Democratic Club, and her deep love for New York City – and New Yorkers – was intoxicating. She was close with every single person who had the pleasure of crossing her path, and many looked to her for support, allyship and counsel – myself included. We mourn the loss of Judy’s beautiful, colorful life, but her spirit lives on in the local sights and political and cultural scenes she cherished.

S. Mitra Kalita, Publisher, Epicenter/CEO, URL Media
Floyd Cardoz was the first person I knew who died of Covid. He’s a celebrity chef and so his death shocked the restaurant world but also the Indian community who had been tracking his phenomenal rise since the days of Tabla (Fancy Indian food! Madonna was a regular!). I remember Floyd though as so down-to-earth, a restauranteur who made space for me at tasting tables but also could hang as we ate West Indian food in Brooklyn. I’m now Facebook friends with his wife who shares pictures of spices and cocktails in his memory, as his legacy.

I never knew Juan Vicente Manuel Valerio, but I think of him every day. He was my husband’s bike mechanic and, in so many ways, inspired the work we do at Epicenter, the newsletter we launched to help New Yorkers through the pandemic. He died at Elmhurst Hospital and had no family in the U.S. to claim his body. We raised the money to have him cremated; it felt the neighborly thing to do. This man literally enabled my husband’s morning commute. I still feel like we owed him much more.

My uncle Bapkhan died when I was 9. We got a letter saying he’d been murdered in our village in Assam, a war-torn state in northeastern India. I remember screaming and my mother holding me. He left behind a pregnant wife, my aunt Rini. She made a big decision, uncommon for women in a more modern India, by deciding to stay in our extended family and raise her son among my father’s cousins. I never knew her well but she attended every family gathering, for more than three decades, playing out the role of a dutiful daughter-in-law. She died of Covid last year, a less violent death than her husband but equally impactful on me.

Jack Dowling at the 3rd Avenue El near Cooper Union while a student there in 1953, courtesy of Village Preservation/Jack Dowling collection

Andrew Berman, Executive Director, Village Preservation
Sadly, I know and remember many wonderful people who succumbed to COVID-19 — people who dedicated their lives to making New York and the world a better place. The most recent person I know to fall to this terrible disease is Jack Dowling, a longtime artist and resident of Westbeth, the arts center in the West Village which provides affordable living and working spaces for artists and arts groups. Jack also ran the Westbeth gallery for many years. Jack was fiercely passionate about his neighborhood and city and protecting its history. He was also a great photo documentarian who donated some wonderful pictures of downtown in decades past to the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive. I’ll miss Jack’s passion, his cutting wit, and his amazing memory and stories about the New York of years gone by.

Andreas Koutsoudakis Sr., photo courtesy of Tribeca’s Kitchen

The Tribeca’s Kitchen team 
On March 27, 2020, Tribeca’s Kitchen, long-known as a friendly neighborhood hangout, lost its patriarch, Andreas Koutsoudakis Sr., to Covid-19. Koutsoudakis’ passing was a noted loss for Tribeca. For years he worked to create an equalizing space that affirmed normalcy for everyone from politicians to construction workers. He championed family values, goodwill, and community in a changing neighborhood. A year on, his son Andy Koutsoudakis Jr. is taking the reins and promising to uphold the ethos created by his father. While the eatery has undergone a complete renovation, themes around legacy and optimism are front-and-center.

Vickey Barron, real estate agent at Compass
I’d like to remember my incredible colleague, Robby Browne, who sadly passed away from COVID-19. He was a true role model and someone the entire real estate community looked up to. He is missed and remembered every day and all of his contributions to New York and the real estate community will never be forgotten, but celebrated.

Melissa Cohn, Executive Mortgage Banker at William Raveis Mortgage
On this day I remember a long-time client who passed away in March of 2020 from Covid. He was a vibrant, healthy, uber-successful businessman with a wonderful family. He was a few days away from closing his loan. It was a stark and immediate reminder that Covid knew no boundaries. I still think about my client today as a reminder that we can never be too careful and we must be forever grateful to the doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly for the past year saving as many people as they have.

FRONTLINE WORKERS

Ryan Serhant, founder and CEO of SERHANT
On New York City’s Day of Remembrance, I’d like to honor all the healthcare workers – especially the nurses. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare community and I’m in awe of their dedication and resiliency. I want to thank them for showing up for this city, for their unwavering care and compassion, and for their strenuous work in getting us through the darkest days of this pandemic. I remember last March and April when there were citywide claps held at 7pm for healthcare and essential workers. I now think about nurses and doctors and essential workers every single day at 7pm; I will never stop applauding them.

Dr. Lisa Lippman, veterinarian and co-host of We Don’t Deserve Dogs podcast 
Both of my parents were on ventilators due to COVID in March. They survived, but it was a traumatic few months. I’d like to honor everyone who cared for them especially the nurses I became so close with–Katie, Alicia, Kevin, JB, Nicole–I’m forever indebted to them. Also, my boyfriend Richie Redding, who drove 17 hours straight for us to be with them and helped live with all of us for 7 months.

Catherine Burns, Artistic Director, The Moth
For me, I’d like to remember the staff of the Brooklyn Hospital Center, which is right across the park from my apartment. They were hard-working and hard hit and lost many members of their own staff. I’d shout out the actor Jeffrey Wright, also a neighbor. He brilliantly organized a fundraiser that helped suffering local restaurants make meals for the hospital workers, who could then order the food around the clock, free of charge. I was so moved by all of this.

Photo credit: Bryan Smith, The Statue of Liberty pictured behind refrigeration trucks serving as a temporary morgue for victims of COVID], May 6, 2020, Courtesy of the photographer; featured in Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition, “New York Responds: The First Six Months

Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director and President, Museum of the City of New York 
Living on the Upper West Side, we are used to hearing the typical din of the city at all hours. But one of the most memorable and, frankly, haunting things was how unbelievably quiet the city was; the silence broken only by the sound of sirens taking people to the hospital or worse.

On a related note: An image that stands out in my memory is that of mobile morgues lined up along the water, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. That photograph is included in our exhibition, New York Responds: The First Six Months, and every time I see it, feelings from that time – the emptiness, loneliness — flood back. The poignant nature of the image is amplified by the juxtaposition of the Statue of Liberty and all that it represents.

Ultimately, though, I hope people will remember that, while New York is often seen as a cold, unfriendly place, people really do come together during difficult times –almost like a small town– and this past year was no exception. That was most evident in the citywide celebration of front-line workers at 7PM each evening. There was such a sense of bonding; even though we were all stuck inside, it was something we could come out and do together. It was quite moving – even for the most jaded New Yorkers.

THE PEOPLE WHO MOVE US

Anthony Paolicelli working for Department of Sanitation on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in New York. Photo by Ann-Sophie Fjello-Jensen/Alliance for Downtown New York

Jessica Lappin, President, Alliance for Downtown New York
I was inspired and moved by the heroic New Yorkers who showed up, day in and day out, to be there for our community and neighbors. Anthony Paolicelli is a great example. He’s a 16-year vet of the Department of Sanitation whose route takes him through Lower Manhattan. Even during the early dark days of the pandemic, he began his work at 5am, taking on the added weight of residential garbage resulting from the stay-at-home order. He helped keep our sidewalks clean and safe and kept the city moving. There are countless others like Anthony and we’ll forever remember and be grateful to how their individual actions made an outsized difference in our lives.

Roger Clark, NY1 reporter
I will never forget the folks who work at my local grocery stores. They never closed and they were always there from the very beginning. I remember the anxiety of going to the supermarket in the early months of the pandemic and the fact that these essential workers, our neighbors, were there for us so we could provide the basics for our families, I will always be thankful.

Dana Schulz, 6sqft managing editor
It’s hard to pick just one heroic essential worker to honor on this day, but I’d like to thank Thomas from Westside Laundromat on the Upper West Side. When the pandemic was at its worst, my fiance and I were washing our clothes in our studio bathtub (we didn’t have laundry in the building). Finally, we decided to put on our masks and gloves and head to the laundromat. We walked outside and the streets were empty–a scary feeling. When we got to the laundromat, Thomas had already installed safety barriers. He was only open for drop-off service, so we left our two huge Ikea bags with him. We continued to drop our laundry off here, and no matter how bad things were, Thomas was always upbeat, chatting to us about the Yankees or Levain cookies. It was always a welcome moment of normalcy that brightened the day. Once, we asked him where he’d gotten his mask, as we were having trouble finding them. Next thing we knew, he, the essential worker, was offering one of his few masks to us. Moments like this, feeling like you weren’t alone, made it possible to get through the hard times.

Agent Christopher Totaro of Warburg Realty
I would like to thank society. It is impossible, in a few words, to thank and remember everyone, but I would like to try. In no particular order:

  • Thank you to those leaders who used the available science and sound logic to speak out and offer rational and responsible guidance to those who would listen.
  • Thank you to those who got up every day and risked their lives in order to try to heal us, feed us, supply us, deliver to us and protect us.
  • Thank you to those who volunteered to make masks.
  • Thank you to those who retooled factories or distilleries in order to help [make] needed supplies for the frontline workers.
  • Thank you to those who listened, stayed home, wore masks, and washed hands.
  • Thank you to those who participated in vaccine trials so that a viable vaccine could be created in record time.
  • Thank you to those who remember to stay human and act kindly and generously with their actions towards one another.

Jess Davis, writer, creative director, and editor in chief of Folk Rebellion. (She’s releasing her first-ever short film on the anniversary of New York City’s lockdown, a personal live journal witness statement of an ordinary family in unordinary times: whatdayisitfilm.com.)
On March 12th, 2020, I watched a group of 3rd graders sing “We Are In This World Together” wearing superhero capes, shoulder to shoulder and holding hands. It was foreboding and immensely sad. After the encore, holding back tears, I took my son home – removing him from school for the last time in…I wasn’t sure how long. His teacher thought I was crazy. They closed the schools four days later. His teacher, robbed of her students, of her 30 years of teaching in-person, of her classroom and tools, zoomed into our home and became the real superhero of our pandemic life. I will be forever grateful for these supposed ordinary heroes.

Craig Peterson, Artistic Director, Abrons Arts Center
Artists —it’s never been more clear how much artists contribute to our health and well-being. They are the ones who have been pulling us through this crisis, in both visible and quiet ways. When the pandemic started, artists were hit hard. The gig economy imploded and artists lost shows and teaching gigs as well as service industry jobs that supported their creative lives and careers. Nevertheless, they jumped in, using their skills to find creative ways to help their communities. On our team, in fact, theater pros from our Tech and Operations Teams tapped their production and logistical skills to create a food pantry, powered by artists and arts professionals, that has delivered groceries and produce for families each week for almost a year.

But perhaps more importantly, artists have pulled us through this isolation in ways we might not even notice. Take a moment to think about the things that have brought you joy during these dark days. What books have you read? What music are you listening to? What are you watching? All of the things that helped to lift our spirits and activate our creative minds, were made by artists. The gifts that artists continue to give us have helped us stay connected, given us community, and reminded us that beauty, imagination and radical empathy can thrive in the face of any challenge. Artists are the quiet heroes of this time – and I’m confident that they will help bring us back together as we emerge from this year of isolation.

Photo of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s 2021 Black Future Festival. Photo by Winston Williams for Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Stephanie Wilchfort, President and CEO, Brooklyn Children’s Museum 
I’d like to acknowledge the incredible Brooklyn Children’s Museum team — our education, facilities, and security staff— who were integral in helping us reopen in September 2020 and who continue to show up every day to help us offer safe, social, cultural experiences for children and caregivers. Working on-site and interfacing with thousands of families, their bravery, grace, and support have been an inspiration to me, as well as a blessing to our institution and to an entire community of families in Brooklyn who have found joy at our museum. I’m deeply grateful for all that they have done to bring smiles to the faces of parents and children alike during this time.

Photo by Max Touhey, courtesy of SL Green

Jeffrey Kenoff, Design Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox
On this anniversary, I’d like to reflect on and acknowledge the strength and perseverance of the countless individuals who pushed through great uncertainty to bring One Vanderbilt to its September ribbon cutting. Their hard work and dedication is the foundation on which the future of this city we love will be built.

Lior Carucci, Managing Director, Minrav Development
My whole team, from construction to marketing and sales, didn’t stop working, week after week during the hardest months of the pandemic. We made a very conscious decision to continue building and launch our development VU because we believed in our need to push forward and to have optimism about the future. This makes me proud to be a New Yorker. I also salute the city’s frontline healthcare workers, who have continued to work tirelessly to keep all New Yorkers safe and healthy, and that is who I will remember on this Day of Remembrance.

A CITY COMING TOGETHER

Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

Elizabeth W. Smith, President & CEO of the Central Park Conservancy
Almost immediately following start of the pandemic, it became clear that parks and open spaces would be critical infrastructure for New Yorkers. I vividly recall walking through the eerily quiet east side of Manhattan in early May past closed stores and empty restaurants on my way to Central Park. Upon entering, I realized the City’s familiar hustle and bustle had moved into the Park, which was filled with socially-distant New Yorkers using it as it was intended to be used: as a safe, democratic space providing a healthful escape from urban life. That image deepened my commitment to the Central Park Conservancy and all the park organizations across the city that ensured parks remained open and accessible as a sanctuary for all New Yorkers during our darkest days.

Emily Nonko, freelance journalist
There’s this false assumption that when the world’s ending, everyone becomes at odds and goes at it on their own. Well, last year in New York City, it almost felt like the world was ending, and in my neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant we got Bed-Stuy Strong. This mutual aid network quickly grew to include thousands of community members donating money, doing grocery shopping and dropoffs, and being in a socially-distant community with one another. Bed-Stuy has significantly gentrified, and it can feel like there are a lot of separate communities within this one neighborhood. What was most striking about this work was the collaboration and support among neighbors of different ages, races, income levels, who lived in all different kinds of housing. It felt like we always wanted to be connected and finally figured out how. Today I’m remembering the spirit of New York, and especially my neighborhood, because for those of us who deeply love this city — we know there’s always going to be someone who’s got your back.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that I was asking Dr. Fauci ‘is the worst yet to come?’ at that Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. Dr. Fauci bravely spoke truth to the American people, replying ‘Yes, it is.’ – in what has seen to be a real turning point in how our country viewed the coronavirus. I reflect on this moment as the Oversight Committee at its best – informing the American people about the real threat of COVID-19 and the need to take serious action. It was after this hearing that sports teams suspended their seasons, our children transitioned into remote learning, and masks became the norm. A year later, too many are still suffering, and after all the tragedies since last March, I want everyone to know that hope, help, and health are on the way. I am tremendously encouraged by the signing of the $1.9 trillion America Rescue Plan and the increase in vaccinations all across the country. The Oversight Committee will continue shining the light of truth as our country battles this crisis.

Elizabeth Goldstein, President, The Municipal Art Society of New York
I remember the people and places that give New York its distinct and unmistakable character, and how effortlessly we encountered them before this year. I miss the discovery of a place that I wasn’t looking for but just happened upon—the Sunday wanders where the only goal was to poke around in shops and sit in the sun in a park and watch people go by. I miss long meals with friends that are full of meandering conversations about life and whatever is on our minds at the moment. I miss the wry look of recognition from a stranger at a funny moment that we shared with a silent smile. I miss the ordinary, everyday magic of life in New York.

Julie Sternberg + Eve Yohalem, co-hosts of the Book Dreams podcast
Among much else, we mourn the bookstores we’ve lost, cherish those that remain, and honor everyone who has fought for their survival–the loyal readers and the booksellers who have sent us stories we need to find light in dark times.

 

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