The life of the late Sylvia Woods was celebrated at a funeral service held in Mount Vernon, N.Y. On Wednesday. Family, friends and community leaders paid tribute to Woods who inspired so many people.
The community paid its last respects to Woods on Tuesday at a public viewing and wake held at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Family members, friends, politicians, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and community members gathered at the church to say goodbye to the famed chef.
Woods had been battling Alzheimer’s over the past several years. She died at her home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. last Thursday at age 86. Known for her Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s, which specializes in soul food dishes, has been a staple to New York City for half of a century.
The Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized Woods at her funeral on Wednesday at Grace Baptist Church. Other clergy from across the city gave words of encouragement to mourners including the Rev. William F. Richarson, the Rev. William M. Mizell and the Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts.
Politicians, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and former New York State Gov. David Patterson, also paid tribute to Woods. NAACP New York State Conference President, Hazel Dukes also shared words.
Another funeral for Woods is scheduled in her hometown of Hemingway, S.C. on Saturday at Jeremiah United Methodist Church. She will be buried at Devotional Memorial Gardens.
Opening Sylvia’s in 1962, Woods founded the restaurant after borrowing the money from her mother. Sylvia’s has been a tourist destination for visitors to the city from around the world. The restaurant has also served as a meeting place for politicians and celebrities as well as locals.
Over the years the restaurant expanded its brand by producing a line of skin care products, canned foods, sauces, baking mixes and cookbooks. Her success earned her the title as the “Queen of Soul Food.”
Woods was also an influence on other well-known chefs across the city including Raven “Cakeman” Dennis in Brooklyn and Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem. Both spoke about how Woods inspired them at her wake on Tuesday.
“Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement.
“Sylvia publicly announced at her 80th birthday celebration that she was retiring and passing the torch to her children and grandchildren who have worked side by side with her and her late husband Herbert building a Soul Food empire for the past 50 years.”
Congressman Charlie Rangel said in statement that Woods was “dynamic” and that she will be missed by the Harlem community. He recently held his primary election victory party at her restaurant.
“Ms. Sylvia created a special place on Lenox and 127th street. Sylvia’s may have been famous nationally and internationally, but its soul has always remained in Harlem,” he said. “Nothing can replace its founder, but her legacy will live on in the memories she helped make.”
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Foundation c/o Sylvia’s Restaurant 328 Lenox Avenue New York, NY 10027.