The motion is unanimous: Doris, C.B. 2 grande dame, is the tops


By Albert Amateau

It was Doris Diether Day last Satur-day when more than 100 of her friends, neighbors and colleagues in the Village and beyond came to her birthday bash on a snowy evening at Judson Memorial Church.

On Community Board 2 since 1964, she is the longest-serving member of any Manhattan community board, with a citywide reputation as a font of zoning wisdom and a fighter for neighborhood preservation.

Born in Queens, she grew up in Massachusetts and came to the Village in 1954.

“I came here as an actress and a painter,” she said. “I still have a trunk full of paintings and a bunch of 8-by-10 photos that actors carry to auditions,” she added.

She recalled joining the Washington Square Players in 1954 and landing a part in “The Heiress,” as one of the aunts. “I had paintings in the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show and some of them went to a gallery on 57th St.,” Diether recalled.

Nevertheless, it was as an activist that she earned the respect and gratitude of her Village neighbors. She started her civic-action career in 1959 fighting to keep the free Shakespeare performances in Central Park and then joining Ruth Wittenberg and Jane Jacobs in the movement to stop the proposed Village urban renewal plans of Robert Moses.

As if neighborhood preservation and zoning were not enough, along the way she became a dance critic for The Villager and joined the Dance Critics Association.

“For over 45 years, Doris has fought valiantly, relentlessly and intelligently for our community and our city,” said Sharon Woolums, a friend who began to organize the birthday event a few months ago. “She’s an inspiration to all of us and we want Doris to know we admire her and love her for being a great neighbor and a friend.”

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Com-munity Board 2, said, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to learn at your feet all these years. And no matter what birthday you’re celebrating, we know you’re just getting started and we’re waiting to see what you’re going to do next.” On behalf of the board, Hoylman presented a bouquet and a book of poetry to Diether, who was visibly moved to tears at times throughout the evening.

Noting the snowstorm blowing outside, City Councilmember Alan Gerson remarked, “Doris has never hesitated to kick up a storm if the occasion warranted.” He recalled that when he was C.B. 2 chairperson, at the end of a long meeting, “when everyone was exhausted, Doris would stand and speak up with limitless energy and correct some crucial point in a resolution.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn bestowed a Council proclamation honoring Diether as an expert in zoning and for raising the standard of professionalism in community boards throughout the city. Quinn recalled talking about land use with a member of an outer-borough community board who began a conversation with “Doris Diether said… .”

The proclamation, signed by Quinn “on behalf of the entire Council,” kicked up a minor storm two days earlier when Queens Councilmember Tony Avella, chairperson of the Council’s Zoning Subcommittee, sent Quinn a letter protesting that she had refused to let him sign onto Quinn’s proclamation or to let him offer his own.

“Surely, whatever political differences we man have can be set aside to celebrate the life and accomplishments of a woman who has dedicated herself to improving the quality of life of her neighborhood,” Avella’s letter said.

Diether said later that she had heard about Avella’s letter but hadn’t seen a copy, which was circulated on e-mail.

“I’m staying out of politics,” she told The Villager in response to a question about the matter.

Gerson said later the way Quinn had signed the proclamation “was perfectly appropriate” and that he had no problem with it.

“I don’t want to detract from the celebration of one of the great ladies of community involvement,” he said.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s proclamation declared Jan. 10, 2009, to be Doris Diether Appreciation Day in Manhattan.

“I really got to know Doris Diether a few years ago when I became borough president and was talking to my staff about land use and zoning,” Stringer said. “It didn’t take long to recognize the respect and influence that Doris has on Community Board 2. We don’t believe she’s 80,” he added.

State Senator Tom Duane presented a state Senate proclamation paying tribute to Diether’s contribution to making the city and the state better places to live. Duane also recalled the activist’s disregard of party politics.

“She was head of the Housing Committee of the Village Independent Democrats in 1960 even though she’s a Republican,” he said.

Borough President Scott Stringer and Diether share a heartfelt moment. Diether and Sharon Woolums, the Village activist who had the idea to throw the big bash for Diether.