Elizabeth Allen, 76, was many things to the two dozen people who stood in mud and rain to honor her at her burial at All Saints Episcopal Church’s cemetery: “Champion of the past.” “Multi-faceted.” Nature lover. Garden tender. Determined.
But she was one thing above all, they said: a force to be reckoned with.
“She was fierce on everything,” Diane Motchkavitz, who grew up a few doors down from her on Steamboat Road and whose family knew the Allens for decades, said on Thursday. “She never did anything halfway. She was always full on.”
Allen, a longtime activist and Park District advocate, was laid to rest on the Allen family plot at All Saints Episcopal Church on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Among the attendees were neighbors, park commissioners, colleagues on the park district’s open space committees, and family and friends.
And there could have been more, her friend David Zielenziger said, noting that several people messaged him that “rain [and] ailments prevented [their] attendance.”
“It’s very touching, very touching,” her sister Patricia Allen Dreyfus said of the attendance. “And I do believe she’s looking down and smiling, saying, ‘good work.’”
Allen, a former attorney, was a frequent presence in the Great Neck News and board meetings of all kinds over the years. She pushed back against what she saw as a steady dripping of overdevelopment in Great Neck that threatened Great Neck’s charm and parks.
“Because she loved nature and the way things were, she was really upset about the overdevelopment in Great Neck and the infringement on parks, chipping away at pieces of the parks” Martin Markson, one of her colleagues on the Great Neck Park District’s Open Space Committee, said.
Mary Cunningham, another colleague on the open space committee, described Allen as a “multi-faceted” individual with a penchant for creating raspberry jam every Christmas – and overcoming more than a fair share of adversity.
“Every step she took was painful. She was in an auto accident years ago,” Cunningham said. “So she really overcame a lot, just even physically. She left her career, she was an entertainment lawyer, she lost her husband.”
Alissa Desmaras, a neighbor of Allen’s, recalled how even a few weeks ago, Allen could be seen feeding her birds despite this.
“No matter how she felt or what condition she was in, she was out there,” Desmaras said, picking up sticks, crab apples and dragging her yard bin around.
“She was a very indomitable spirit.”
Allen had been a key player in a lawsuit against Kings Point, where she and three other plaintiffs sued the village to prevent the pillaging of acres worth of parkland for a public works facility.
Dan Capruso, one of the plaintiffs, said at her burial that it was Allen who had notified him about how “part of the park I live near was going to be destroyed” and without her, he wouldn’t have been able to fight back.
“She made the community a better place,” Capruso said, “and everybody is going to miss her like I am.”
Dreyfus said their father was born in 1898 and grew up in Great Neck, meaning the family had been there for 120 years. She and Allen grew up there too – but it would be Allen who decided to stay out of a love for the area and their house, Dreyfus said.
“Elizabeth was so active in the community and many people will say how she, because of her determination and her background as a lawyer, she was able to achieve, to preserve parks in Great Neck,” Dreyfus said. “She was able to really make a difference to keep the community not the way it was – things change – but more the way it was than it would have been without her.”
Judy Rosenthal, a Great Neck resident who attended the burial, suggested that the best way for anyone “touched or affected by” Allen would be to attend a meeting.
“There will never be another [Elizabeth Allen], so we may need a few hundred [people] to replace her,” Rosenthal said. “That would be a great tribute to her, to show up. She would be happy and honored to hear that.”