Adored Brooklyn activist Lydia “Buffy” Buffington, who helped seniors obtain affordable housing and distributed toys to children during the holidays, died peacefully in her sleep at her Carroll Gardens home on July 3. She was 61.
The community liaison for the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation had a heart condition, but she was in good spirits at a recent family picnic, according to relatives. Buffington, a widow, was also seen out and about on Court Street — a commercial strip she helped to beautify with new trees and bright lights — a few days before her death.
“I was having breakfast with my husband at Le Petit Cafe, and Lydia was sitting at the next table with friends,” said Joan D’Amico, owner of D’Amico Foods on Court and Degraw streets.
D’Amico said she and Buffington sold raffle tickets at the annual Court Street fairs, where people made a beeline for the vivacious woman with the infectious smile.
“Lydia was larger than life,” she said. “She knew how to work a room.”
Fellow Court Street merchant Vincent Mazzone, of Mazzone Hardware at Fourth Place, recalled how Buffington enlivened Yuletide tree lightings at Carroll Park with gifts she bought herself.
“Lydia would come with boxes of nice items to give away to the children, and she refused to be reimbursed,” he said. “It made a big difference in the event.”
Smart as a whip and multi-lingual, Buffington, a former media executive for JC Penney, also served on the economic, waterfront and housing committees of Community Board 6. But her focus, as the 17-year “heart and soul” of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, was directing seniors to low-rent housing opportunities — often accompanying them to court appointments, said her boss.
“Lydia would offer hope to people, and you could see the person become encouraged, knowing they were in the hands of someone who cared,” said Bill Appel, the group’s executive director.
Buffington’s own life wasn’t spared tragedy.
She was the youngest of seven siblings, whose parents buried two children before emigrating from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland when she was less than a year old. She took on her niece Ana Lydia and her nephew Carlos as her own after her sister Martha died in 1993. Buffington’s husband Rick passed away in 2007.
Yet the hardships didn’t detract her from her work, which could become intense at times.
Buddy Scotto, of Scotto Funeral Home on Court Street and First Place, where her wake was held, remembered a highly charged meeting a few years ago, when the community met to discuss a potential business improvement district for the area. Landlords, who didn’t want to incur the extra expense, battled the idea — a fight Buffington found literally overwhelming, according to Scotto.
“Lydia actually fainted because she was so committed to the cause,” he said.
Lydia Buffington’s good works and generosity of spirit will live on in her beloved Carroll Gardens, agreed close friends and associates.
“She had a radiance that would break people’s resistance and make them want to join her cause,” said Dr. Mike Polanski, of Family First Chiropractic on Court Street and Fourth Place. “Lydia was unforgettable.”
Lydia Buffington was cremated at Greenwood Cemetery, and her remains were brought to Long Island to rest alongside her late husband Rick Buffington. She is survived by her siblings Janice Treglia, and John and Berhman Castanon, in addition to six nieces and nephews, and eight great nieces and nephews.