Former Philadelphia City Councilwoman Happy Fernandez has died. She was 74.
She suffered a massive stroke after lung surgery on Jan. 10. The surgery was successful but she suffered the stroke moments before being released from a hospital on Jan. 13. Her family reported Saturday that she died peacefully.
Fernandez leaves behind quite a legacy in Philadelphia. She served two terms in city council and was the first woman to run for mayor in 1999.
Along with city council, Fernandez also served 13 years as President of Moore College of Art and Design. She stepped down from her duties last year.
Fernandez underwent successful lung surgery Jan. 10, but suffered the stroke moments before being released from a hospital on Jan. 13. Her family reported Saturday that she died peacefully.
Born Gladys Vivian Craven in 1939 in Omaha, Neb., “Happy” was a nickname that when combined with her surname, “Fernandez” gave a very unique monicker.
She moved east in 1954, raising a family and earning four academic degrees before rising to prominence in the city's civic, cultural and political life.
Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke released the following statement regarding her death.
"Happy Fernandez had a personality and a heart befitting her name. My sadness at her passing is tempered by knowing her unique, sunny idealism has inspired countless others.
"I first came to know Happy when she was a Councilwoman and I was one of a crowd of young, anonymous staffers. Councilwoman Fernandez was always generous with her time and attention. Notably, she took the trouble to learn our names and always had a kind word.
"Councilwoman Fernandez will go down in Philadelphia history as the first woman to seek a major-party nomination for Mayor, and it is my sincere hope that more women follow in her footsteps. Happy was proof that idealism and a generous spirit are assets, not roadblocks, in civic life. May her passion for public education, for the young, and for the less fortunate live on across this City she loved so dearly.
"I extend my heartfelt condolences to her husband, the Rev. Richard Fernandez, their sons and their grandchildren."
She was the first woman to seek a major-party nomination for the top job of Philadelphia mayor in the nation's fifth-largest city in 1999.
She was the only Democrat in the primary ever to run a successful citywide campaign for an at-large council seat. She accomplished that in 1991 and 1995, and served two consecutive terms on council.
Fernandez helped cut local government costs by supporting the privatization of city services. She drew criticism for the low profile she kept on Council, introducing "Operation Crosswalk," a crackdown on errant bicyclists and jaywalkers. She also shepherded into law proposals to keep teenagers away from cigarette vending machines, and the creation of zero-tolerance-for-graffiti zones.
As ninth president of Moore College of Art & Design, she introduced graduate programs, the college's first co-ed education degree programs, and embraced the future by joining with Apple to provide iPads to all undergraduate students.
A lifelong advocate for public schools, she founded and led the Parents Union for Public Schools and the Children's Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
During her tenure at Moore, the college completed a $30 million capital campaign; introduced the Visionary Woman Awards, an event honoring female leaders in the arts; and secured more than $3.5 million in new scholarships and fellowships, said Roy Wilbur, director of marketing and communications.
Fernandez earned a bachelor's degree in Biblical history and literature from Wellesley College in 1961; a master's degree in Teaching from Harvard University in 1962; a master's degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970; and a doctorate of education from Temple University in 1984.
She taught for 18 years at the School of Social Administration at Temple University.
Her interest in public education led her in 1976 to write a handbook, "Parents Organizing to Improve Schools." Five years later, she authored The Child Advocacy Handbook, still in print.
At various times, she served on 30 boards and advisory committees, including the Parkway Council Foundation, Philagrafika, the Association of Independent Schools of Art and Design, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia 2035.
An avid tennis player, her first visit to Philadelphia came in 1955 when she played in the National Junior Girls Championships.
She met her husband, the Rev. Richard Fernandez, in 1961 and lived in University City for 40 years.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by three sons, John, David and Rich; and eight grandchildren.