Pat Jones, a former chair of West Harlem’s Community Board 9 who fought to get benefits for the Manhattanville community in the wake of Columbia’s expansion, died at home on Thursday.
Yuien Chin, a close friend and former CB9 member, said Tuesday night that the cause of death was undetermined, and CB9 member Javier Carcamo said her death was unexpected.
Jones joined CB9 in 2001 and served as chair for two terms from 2008 to 2010. She co-authored the Community Benefits Agreement, a legal document outlining $76 million in funding and benefits for the neighborhood from Columbia, and chaired the board committee whose work led to the plan. In those roles, Jones advocated for an alternative to the University’s plan, which included more affordable housing, landmark preservation, and increased accessibility to University facilities.
She also served on the board of the West Harlem Development Corporation, the organization that will ultimately distribute the funds promised in the CBA to the neighborhood.
Kofi Boateng, the WHDC’s executive director, said that Jones’ commitment to fulfilling the promise of the CBA over several years demonstrated how much she cared about the community.
“It is a very deep legacy that she has left and puts a burden, a challenge on me personally to make the dreams that she carried a reality for the community to which she gave so much,” Boateng said.
She regularly presented updates to the community board with news of the corporation’s progress at times, a difficult task considering the WHDC’s numerous delays in incorporating and acquiring an office.
“Pat was dedicated to her cause,” Boateng said. “She was very conscientious about her work. She was very particular about making sure that the WHDC didn’t do anything that would besmirch its name and the names of the board members.”
Though Jones had been instrumental in the writing of the CBA, she remained silent at the WHDC’s public meeting—the largest yet—last month.
“The night before we had the public meeting, she came into my office when everyone was gone and she knew I was working late,” Boateng said. “She said, ‘Kofi, I don’t want you to go into the meeting unprepared. Let’s do a dry run.’ That’s the kind of person she was.”
Relationships on the community board can be contentious, but her colleagues characterized Jones as a warm and welcoming presence, especially to new members.
Arnold Boatner, chair of CB9’s waterfront, parks, and recreation committee, said that he became close friends with Jones despite occasional disagreements.
“When I became a member of the board, she was one of the people that I would seek out for advice,” Boatner said.
When Boatner told Jones about a project he was interested in working on involving a survey of available and vacant space in West Harlem, he said she “immediately sent me a document that played a key role in the genesis of the project.”
Diane Wilson, a former CB9 member and longtime Harlem resident, said she was impressed by Jones’ “knowledge and connection and passion,” even though Jones had just recently moved to Harlem when Wilson met her.
“When I first joined the board, my father died, and she gave me a card and did everything to make me feel at home,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t necessarily being treated that way at the time by the previous chair. My first impression was somebody who welcomed new members.”
Wilson added that Jones would want to “make sure that the CBA is administered properly” above all. “That’s the one thing that she would want to see—that this money is administered fairly.”
Board members said that they went to Jones for advice and admired her sharp intelligence and competence.
Larry English, Jones’ successor as CB9 chair, said in an email that she was “quite simply one of the most important figures in Harlem.”
“There were few people ever in the room that were smarter,” English said.
After serving as CB9 chair, Jones served as co-chair of the board’s land use and zoning committee. Throughout her tenure as board and then committee chair, she had an instrumental role in several local rezoning efforts, including the Manhattanville and West Harlem rezonings. Jones, who worked as an accountant and manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers and a manager with JPMorgan, did not have any previous knowledge of zoning or city land use procedures.
Carcamo, co-chair of the land use and zoning committee, said that Jones was “a chameleon who could wear any kind of role and was always ready to put in the work.”
“When she first started on the rezoning committee, she knew nothing about it, and just by reading about it she became this expert,” Carcamo said. “She learned a lot about the technical aspect of it.”
“I was very saddened,” Carcamo added. “I think it’s an untimely loss and it’s so unexpected. You’d never think seeing her. She was such a strong person, you’d never think this could happen.”