A public funeral was held Wednesday in Mount Vernon for restauranteur and Harlem icon Sylvia Woods, who died last Thursday at the age of 86. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
At Sylvia Woods's funeral Wednesday, Rev. Al Sharpton said "Soul food ain't soul food unless you touch the soul of those you serve."
Judging by the standing-room-only crowd at the Queen of Soul Food's funeral, the founder of Sylvia's Restaurant did just that.
"She gave us what we wanted, what we needed," said former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. "The comfort of the familiar, service with a smile and the warmth of family and best chicken collard greens and black eyed peas I'd ever tasted."
Nearly every community leader, clergy member and elected official who took to the podium praised her cooking. But it was her legacy as a matriarch and business pioneer that was the main focus of the three-hour funeral at Mount Vernon's Grace Baptist Church.
"What she was to us was love," said her son, Kenneth Woods. "Full of love and generosity."
"Her main goal while she was here on this earth was to make sure that each person she came into contact with knew their worth, knew they were special," said her granddaughter, Tren'ness Woods-Black.
The 86-year-old died last Thursday following a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Wednesday's service, however, celebrated her life rather than mourned her death.
Born in South Carolina during the days of segregation, Woods came to Harlem and broke ground by opening her own business 50 years ago.
"Her momma gave her the money to go into business," Sharpton said. "Her momma invested in her daughter and her daughter invested in the community."
Serving what Sharpton said was not a cuisine but the staples of life, the restaurant itself quickly became a staple of community life in Harlem and beyond.
"Every protest, every movement, every plan, every law started with a breakfast or lunch or dinner at Sylvia's," said former New York Gov. David Paterson.
Over time, she and her brand would grow to international fame. But her dedication to her customers, local patrons and presidents alike, remained unchanged.
"With all that growth, she would stand in the door and welcome people herself," Sharpton said.
"People like her are never really gone," Dinkins said. "As long as generations can eat at her table, she is not gone."
The tribute to Sylvia Woods's life and legacy will continue this Saturday when she will be celebrated and laid to rest in her hometown of Hemingway, South Carolina.