Remembering Zelle Andrews

White Plains resident died February 2

WHITE PLAINS – A memorial service has been scheduled to celebrate the life of Zelle Andrews, a lifelong human rights activist who served as Westchester County’s first liaison to the LGBT community.

Andrews, of White Plains, died Feb. 2 at the age of 78.

“Zelle Andrews was a courageous and effective advocate for gay rights and women’s rights for several decades,” said U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison. “Zelle’s efforts improved the lives of many Westchester residents.”

The church service will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 20 at Scarsdale Congregational Church, 1 Heathcote Road, Scarsdale.

A 1960 graduate of Wheaton College, Andrews, who grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, began her four-decade career as an advocate for social change in the early 1970s, while studying for her doctorate in history at the University of Hawaii.

She co-founded the Honolulu chapter of the National Organization for Women and was appointed by the governor to the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women. She later served as president of the New York State and Westchester NOW organizations and eventually became a member of NOW’s national board.

Later, during the 1970s, Andrews served as assistant director of WESPAC, a White Plains-based umbrella group for progressive activists throughout the lower Hudson Valley.

WESPAC founder Connie Hogarth, now director of Manhattanville College’s Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action, described her as “brilliant,” and a “gentle and loving person.”

“This is a great loss to us all, and we need to nurture many more young women to follow her example and spirit,” she said.

In the early 1980s, Andrews was a member of the United Church of Christ’s national staff in Washington, D.C., where she advocated on Capital Hill for ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Returning to Westchester, she continued her activism, and in 1994, was appointed by Republican Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke as the county’s first liaison to the LGBT community.

“Her work as the county’s first LGBT liaison is a significant reason for why the LGBT community in Westchester County has advanced to where it stands today,” said Mark Fank, the county’s human rights commissioner.

Andrews also worked for a time in the 1990s as director of the New Rochelle-based Thomas Paine National Historical Association.

In a 1998 speech made when she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Woman’s Equality Day Committee, Andrews said that while “many of us are frustrated by the slow pace of our movement for equality, I know, as a historian, that profound social change usually takes centuries. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for not achieving all we want, only for not trying.”

Those who knew her best said Andrews never stopped trying.

Longtime friend Patrice Ingrassia said she was a champion of human rights.

“Respected by people from both major (political) parties for her accomplishments, her legacy is a more diverse and inclusive Westchester,” Ingrassia said.

In 2000, she was among 10 leaders recognized by the New York Civil Liberties Union for her work in helping to create the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. In 2009, the New York State Senate passed a resolution recognizing Andrews’ work.

Andrews married Richard Larson in the early 1960s while she worked reviewing student case studies at the Harvard Business School. The couple split up in 1977, but remained friends until Larson’s death in 2006.

She is survived by her partner of 16 years, Deborah Zipf of White Plains, a nephew, Peter Durbin, of London; and a niece, Annie Durbin Eby of Santa Cruz, California.

Posted in Blogs, Director's Blog

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