Losing a Chelsea Hero: Judy Richheimer Remembered as a Relentless Activist, Journalist, Friend

Photo of Judy Richheimer by Donathan Salkaln

Judy Richheimer, 70, died from COVID-19 complications. Her friends, colleagues, and admirers remember her as a tenacious, vital, combative, and concerned member of the Chelsea community.

Following those testimonials and memories, find Twitter testimonials as well as links to Richheimer’s preserved-in-Internet-amber work as a journalist. As you’ll see, Judy leaves a legacy that calls to the rest of the living a call to action, concern, and compassion. May we all go forth with a sense of purpose, and a message of good cheer. In the end, what more can we do? Much more, perhaps–but that, dear reader, is up to you.–Scott Stiffler, founder/editor, Chelsea Community News

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It is with heavy heart and a great sense of loss that Save Chelsea has learned of the death of Judy Richheimer last week at Lenox Hill Hospital, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Judy was a great ally of ours at Save Chelsea in the cause of historic preservation, and in preserving and building healthy diverse communities for all.

She was a good bit older than anyone could ever have guessed from looking at her… but by her standards, any age can be youthful, and she personified this to the hilt. Judy was an example of the best that a great urban center can make of a person. She was one of the great New York City urbanists that, alas, are increasingly rare. Not content to sit in an armchair pontificating, Judy did all she could to make sure our great metropolis lived up to its highest and best potential.

A progressive political leader, she was a tireless advocate for social justice, who had a passion to serve both the disabled and able-bodied with accessible, affordable, and efficient transit.

She was a friend of tenants, universal healthcare, transparent and publicly financed elections, and a wise and very dedicated advocate for judicial integrity.

Judy was a professional journalist who had a knack for getting interesting articles on issues of urban planning into publications not usually known for this, thus broadening the audience for these matters. She also wrote extensively about the arts. She was a graduate of the early days of NYU’s film school. She always had incredibly thoughtful insights.

If you knew Judy for an extended period of time, you would never cease to be amazed how (always in casual conversation and not premeditated at all) it would come out that she had known another truly interesting innovative artist or thinker, right at the moment that person discovered the thing that was going to be their “thing.” One has to wonder if she was their muse. If so, she would never have taken credit—she was just happy to been there.

Photo by Brian Mangan

Many people would say that part of Judy’s great success at being interesting was that she was forever interested. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions of those who had something worthy to impart.

Many friends will fondly recall that while still in high school, preparing for a public poetry reading tournament, she looked in the phone book and discovered that W.H. Auden, whose poem she was to read, lived on St. Marks place.

So she called him up. At such a young age, that’s pretty gutsy, and that was Judy. She called him at just after nine in the evening, and he answered. After she worked up to asking her question he replied, “Young lady, are you aware that it is not customary for people to call someone they do not know after 9PM?” Although she was mortified, she was, as so often was the case with her captivating personal stories, able to take what must have been a rather humiliating experience and turn it into a marvelous story for posterity.

Judy was an officer and supporter of the Guides Association of NY, and its government relations point person. Wearing one of her many (always distinctive and beautiful) hats, she was a professional tour guide. She brought a passion for our city and an incredible breadth of knowledge to a great many eternally grateful people.

She was always game, either to go discover a part of the city she had not yet experienced, or to share it with others.

A former president of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC), and numerous turns as Vice President, Judy was a presence in NYC for years, and as a judicial delegate (a position that many merely use as a stepping stone to further political advancement) would actually go, on her own time, to courts to see judges up for re-election in action on the bench, and offer all of us concise, on-scene evaluations.

Accounts from politicians to activist causes all speak of Judy’s tireless dedication, especially in doing difficult, often thankless, grunt work: canvassing door to door, flyering on corners, showing up to countless rallies, and organizing informative forums and panels (on which she often served) on a variety of timely. important matters.

Judy could be every bit as dedicated, in a very direct way, to any number of people in need, whether nursing people with painful fatal illnesses or visiting people in the depths of depression—always in a natural way, by just dropping by (every night if need be) to watch TV together, with chocolate or something else tasty in hand. She was incredibly tolerant of all kinds of people that others might not want to make time for. Some might say she was tolerant to a fault. She wouldn’t see it that way.

As with her activism she wasn’t afraid to do the difficult grunt work, caring for any number of people who could be very difficult in their suffering. She was one of those New Yorkers who make New York City and State a more civilized and amusing place to live and work.  This may well feel like it is a lost art, or that people like Judy are a diminishing breed at times.  We need thousands more to fill her (often stylish and interesting) shoes.

It will be less civilized and amusing without Judy.

She leaves a brother and extended family, and her friends like us, and the many lives she touched.—Save Chelsea Board  

Photo by Erik Bottcher

All I can say is Oh, my God. Judy and I went to a meeting on the 10th Ave. bus together. It seems as though it was yesterday. How can she be gone? Heartbreaking.–Leathea Vanadore

Besides CRDC meetings and activities, my memory of Judy was as the ideal person to walk down the street with. I usually would bump into her around London Terrace, and we would both be walking east towards Eighth Ave. In the block and one-half, we would engage in animated discussions about the neighbors, neighborhood, the city, and the world.  I wouldn’t necessarily agree with her perspectives all the time, the enjoyment we (I assume her as well as I) derived was from the personal contacting, face to face, as we walked. I will miss Judy and our spontaneous walking encounters.–Burt Lazarin, former Chair, and 15-year member, of Manhattan Community Board 4

It is hard to tell this story in few words. Judy would object to the blurring of nuance and omission of events, but I will attempt to do so anyhow.

About 20 years ago, on a tour of the Lower East Side, I encountered a chatty, informed, and charismatic guide. We had lunch. One and a half hours turned into four, as it often did. A year or two later, we were both at CRDC the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club)—me as president, she as a returning member. Her inquisitiveness, relentlessness, and graceful turn of phrase struck me—again. Many dinners, walks, and encounters at political events later, I was pulled out of retirement to become CRDC’s president again. What to do about programming? Judy! Her commitment to debate was unparalleled, her patience for discussion, indefatigable.

Not every grassroots political organization is fortunate enough to have a Judy; we were. Nearly always, she balanced her sometimes exasperating querulousness with a nearly impeccable graciousness.  I don’t even know how much I am going to miss her.–Steven Skyles-Mulligan

Judy’s smile was infectious. Walking on Seventh Ave. in my own world, sometimes I would see Judy’s smile before I saw her. I would always stop and talk, most times spending about a half hour catching up with her before remembering I had somewhere to go.

She had strong opinions, but knew how to listen to others. Well, me, anyway. Judy showed up for parties first, and in fashion. That gave her plenty of time to speak with everyone— and even if they really didn’t want to speak with her, they knew what was on her mind. She believed in grassroots politics and in democracy, and gave 100% of herself to the CRDC (Chelsea Reform Democratic club) effortlessly, never backing down in the face of adversity. We will miss her.–Lisa Padilla

Have been pondering all of the things I could say about Judy… and find that it all has been said by others.  There was only one Judy R. and her memory and accomplishments will live on in her many impacts on our city and our lives.–Paul Groncki

Having met with and worked with Judy as members of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC), I can easily testify that I never met anyone who was more dedicated to the welfare of our beloved Chelsea. Judy had intimate knowledge of the issues of our community: its residents (children and seniors and all in-between), small businesses, political candidates, housing and architecture, to name a few.

As president of the CRDC, she always secured a myriad of speakers on a breadth of topics, each of which provided a platform for discourse, and often delicious debate. She could be relied upon to state her well-thought-out point of view on any topic, however unpopular it might be received, and the result was provoked thought for the listeners. Judy’s passing is a terrible loss to us. Thank you for all you’ve done Judy, as I’m sure you’re now getting it done upstairs.–Mary D. Dorman, Esq.

Photo by Brian Mangan

I first met Judy back in 2009 at Assembly Member Dick Gottfried’s Lunar New Year celebration that year. As a new staffer, I didn’t know what to expect and so dressed up quite a bit for the occasion. Judy took an immediate liking to me for that, and I came to notice she enjoyed stepping out in good outfits, too.

A year later, at the same party, I’ll never forget her meeting my then-boyfriend and whispering to me, “Oh Jeffrey, you boys make such a cute couple!” Always in shimmering sequins at the holidays and bright prints during the warmer months, often complimented with a hat, Judy stood out and stood up for all—and always with red lipstick on, too.

Years ago, she implored me to join her at the New-York Historical Society to see the show about Lincoln. It was then I learned she was a certified tour guide for the City of New York—and my, could she tell a story about every block in town. Her progressive politics blazed a path, and she was a champion for all. She was a consummate presence in civics on the West Side, and she will be missed.–Jeffrey LeFrancois

I will miss seeing Judy at the monthly Chelsea Reform Democratic Club meeting, as she always sat up front, as I did. She was never afraid to speak her mind. She will be missed by many.–Joanne Sinovoi

Judy Richheimer was friendly and engaging, and her conversation, smile and sense of fashion lit up every political event she attended.–Arthur Engoron

Judy—a true liberal warrior. Smart, skillful, gracious, and a champion for Democratic values. When I lived in Chelsea, I would run into her frequently and we would chat over tea. She was always available to answer questions about the club (Chelsea Reform Democratic Club; aka CRDC), and Democratic policies. What I loved about her was that she stuck to her guns. She was an asset to CRDC and will be irreplaceable. I will miss her.–Carol Demech

I was Judy’s Executive Vice President for the 2019-2020 term of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club. She was a cornerstone of the Club for over fifteen years, doing everything from serving as President to bringing refreshments to meetings. She was also the reason that I joined the Club in the first place. When I was looking for a Club to join back in 2014, I called the phone number on CRDC’s website, and Judy answered. She kept me on the phone for an hour the first time I spoke to her, telling me how important the Clubs were to the city and what a huge difference can be made through local activism. We had never met, and I found myself begging off the phone, learning right away that this was a person I could not say “no” to. 

Judy was a hero — a selfless advocate, a person whose life was completely devoted to fighting for the rights of people that she did not know and would never meet. She labored tirelessly on behalf of the causes she believed in, like Richard N. Gottfried’s single payer bill. In January, she went to Albany to protest the use of solitary confinement, and was already looking forward to getting on the bus this summer and fall to swing districts to help defeat Donald Trump.

Judy also had a deep and unwavering commitment to reform. When she ran for President of CRDC last year, she began her speech by saying this: “I am both a big and small ‘d’ Democrat. Though my own politics embrace ‘the left wing of the possible,’ I want every Democrat to have a voice, a guiding principle of Reform.” I could not think of a more fitting description for what she believed in.

Judy believed in the goodness of people more than anyone I’ve ever met. She had boundless energy and an infinite capacity to forgive. 

It was an honor to work with her and learn from her these last few years. She will be missed terribly.–Brian Mangan

Judy definitely was one person who had respect for everyone and cared about this whole neighborhood. She always made sure that the families of Fulton Houses weren’t left out of any conversations of the changes being done in Chelsea, whether it was the closure of a mom-and-pop store or a condo being built near Fulton that would make it unaffordable for our families at Fulton. She would call me and check on us, to see what she could do to help. That was Judy—always worried about others before herself. She’s will be missed by all.–Miguel Acevedo, President, Fulton Tenants Association

Judy’s passing is heartbreaking news. I can’t imagine not seeing her at events and around the neighborhood. I would regularly run into her in the bagel shop on Eighth Avenue or on the street, where we would stop to catch up on club gossip.

The last time I saw Judy I was having lunch on 23rd Street. She and I actually carried on an animated, albeit silent conversation, through the window of the restaurant. She smiled that wonderful smile, we waved goodbye and I felt happy in the moment. The memory makes me smile now despite my profound sadness. Everyone, please do all that you can to stay safe.–Sandy Marsh

I first met Judy when I was in the City Council and she was one of the leaders of the fledging union that the Tour Guides were initiating. There was lots of back and forth about which union to affiliate with and her voice was always the calmest and most informed. I was proposing a bill that the Tour Guides opposed and she supported her colleagues but was still a pleasure to work with.

The law banned open-air buses from using speakers to talk to tourists, and I introduced it because residents in the Village and elsewhere heard the same explanation of their neighborhood over and over again, because the voices of the Guides on the buses echoed up the buildings on narrow streets. I believe that the tourists now use headphones.

Judy was also concerned about the safety of the buses and was a leader in forcing companies to improve the working conditions. And we know that Judy continued her leadership as twice-President of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club. She was such a pleasure to be with, had phenomenal leadership abilities, and was knowledgeable on many issues. OMG Judy will be missed tremendously by all of us.–Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President

I want to share memories of Judy Richheimer now at the time of her untimely and unexpected passing. Judy wore many public hats—she was involved in community issues, political issues, writing, and being a tour guide. I’d like to add that she wore them well! I’m aware that she was looking forward to being actively involved in this summer’s political events especially, but not only the presidential election process as well as the judicial delegate selection process.

I feel bad for Judy. I feel bad for all of us because her energy, insight, etc. is no longer physically present. I wish her family and close friends all the best in their grieving—and Judy, you will be missed.–Phyllis Shanley

Photo by Brian Mangan

In 2014, when I was Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, I received a call from Judy one day. She was very concerned about tour guides (which the agency licensed) and issues with pedicabs and cartoon characters in Times Square. She wanted to organize a meeting and invited me to speak. She organized it at the Jewish Museum, Uptown.

When I arrived there, thinking I would be speaking to a small gathering of tour guides, I walked in to the packed room where hundreds of tour guides all organized by Judy were seated. She had comment cards, organized questions, and ensured that every voice, no matter what issue they had, was heard. She was a true force—indefatigable, dedicated beyond belief, with a wry sense of wit and a deep and indelible love for her community. I will miss her.–Julie Menin 

Judy was a very longtime resident of London Terrace Gardens [435 W. 23rd St.], and there was probably no one more familiar to the other residents, because Judy did not come home and shut the door behind her. She practically lived in the big building’s lounge, where she could work on her laptop and interact with countless tenants passing through. She even sometimes fell asleep on one of the couches and had to be woken up by one of the staff so she could retire to her home.

Being a member of the London Terrace Tenants Association was always important to her—both to support her fellow tenants and the tenant movement—and to take advantage of the discounts from area merchants who she frequently patronized.

Chelsea was “her” neighborhood and she shone light on many corners of it through her journalism. We’ve all seen the epic anti-Trump display in the window of a ground-floor studio at 415 W. 23rd St., but it was through Judy’s story that I learned it was the handiwork of the retired chef of the famous Quilted Giraffe restaurant, Barry Wine.

Many have spoken of her dedication to social and political causes. She was also more determined than anyone I’ve every known to get elected as a delegate or alternate to the county judicial convention. The phrase “all politics is local” was invented for Judy Richheimer.

We have lost a big piece of our Chelsea soul. Condolences to us all.–Andy Humm, Secretary, London Terrace Tenants Association

Judy was a warm, friendly, incredibly earnest, and well-intentioned person. I don’t think she had a bad bone in her body. She seemed to dedicate her entire life to causes she believed in—progressive politics, New York, the arts, etc.

For someone who was so interested in politics, Judy was one of the least political people I have ever met. There was no self-interest, ego, or self-aggrandizement involved. There was no deal-making, no favor-swapping, no horse-trading; she seemed to be motivated solely by what she believed in and thought was right. She was generous to others and constantly working to try to make the world a better place.

She will definitely be missed. The world needs more people like her who were willing to do the work, and try to make things better for everyone without thinking or caring about what was in it for her.–Andrew Berman

Devastated that my friend Judy Richheimer passed away last night due to this terrible virus. She was twice elected President of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, she was a tour guide, preservationist, early supporter of the High Line, worked nonstop to elect progressive judges.–NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, via Twitter

Judy was most recently the president of the Chelsea Reform Democratic club (@crdcnyc). I’ll miss Judy’s intelligence, wry sense of humor and ability to poke fun at everything, including herself. She was a New Yorker if ever there was one.–NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, via Twitter

It really hit home today, losing a dear friend to coronavirus. Judy Richheimer was a community leader who loved the city that loved her right back. A former President of @CRDCNYC, she understood that the government’s greatest responsibility is to serve people & keep them safe.–Congressperson Carolyn B. Maloney, via Twitter

A time of grief for the Chelsea community as we mourn the passing of longtime activist Judy Richheimer. Judy was a dedicated, compassionate leader and a past president of @CRDCNYC who fought for her community and the causes she embraced, and she will be terribly missed.–NY State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, via Twitter

ARTICLES and CLIPS BY JOURNALIST and TOUR GUIDE JUDY RICHHEIMER

Chisholm Larsson: Poster Boys for Vintage Posters / July 12, 2018

West Chelsea Site ‘Flagged’ for Non-Union Work, Unsafe Conditions / June 6, 2018

In Court, at Rally, People with Disabilities Demand Subway Access / March 7, 2018

The People’s MTA Champions System-Wide Subway Access for the Disabled / Feb. 28, 2018

RISC Preps War Correspondents for Physical Dangers of Their Profession  /Jan. 31, 2018

Whimsical, Surreal, Satirical: Wine’s Installation is a Window Into the Soul — But Whose? / Aug 3, 2017

https://nymag.com/author/judy-richheimer/

https://muckrack.com/judy-richheimer/articles

https://youtu.be/uVbqG8aihO0

 

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4 Responses to "Losing a Chelsea Hero: Judy Richheimer Remembered as a Relentless Activist, Journalist, Friend"

  1. Deley Gazinelli   April 20, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    Last time, I saw Judy in person she was very upset about how she was being treated by the leadership of her club. I listened carefully and reminded her that unfortunately the work involved in political clubs are often unrecognized and devalued. One has to have to believe and be committed in advancing change and progress in society, without expectation of being recognized and rewarded for it. When she was admitted at the hospital, I joked with her that she was strong enough to get a beating and needed to get well soon to continue to fight back. Judy loved being involved in important issues that affect all of us in our city. I will always remember her as knowledgeable, an uncompromising fighter and a deeply caring person. She will always live in my heart.

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  2. Kathleen   April 3, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Grateful thanks, Scott. Judy was, in addition to all the wonderful true things said about her here, good, funny, witty and wise. And God, was she NICE! She more than once in my hearing stood up for someone who had been unkind to her…a rare quality in any human. Good night, Darling
    Friend.

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  3. Miriam Fisher   March 31, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    I am a long-time Chelsea resident, but first became acquainted with Judy when she began writing and interviewing for her series in Chelsea Now on disability advocacy and the campaign for subway accessibility for people with disabilities, “elevators for everyone.” Her perceptions and observations came from both her sensitivity and from her political perspective of injustice and discrimination. The articles were written in a lively descriptive style and engaging, not wonky or preachy! We would bump into each other in Chelsea, especially food shopping. I was taken by how eager she was to connect me to other activists for disability rights and with potential public political allies. I last saw her on March 11, at a court hearing on holding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because of inaccessible subways, a court case she was following as it went slowly slowly through multiple hearings. I still have her text in my phone, double checking the court hearing time, and saying she “loved” that the hearing was in the afternoon, not the early morning! Miriam Fisher

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  4. Pamela Wolff   March 30, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Once again, Chelsea Community News has come through for us in Chelsea, providing a platform for us to share our grief for the loss of one of our own to this scourge. Thank you Scott.

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