Ronald A. Blackwood, the first elected black mayor in the State of New York, died peacefully February 22, 2017 at his home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He was 91 years old. The cause of death was complications of Parkinson’s Disease.
Mayor Blackwood was born in Kingston, Jamaica on January 19, 1926. He immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, and arrived in Mount Vernon at the age of 28. He obtained a B.B.A. in Management from Iona College. His career began at Honeywell Medical Electronic Division in Pleasantville, NY where he spent 30 years, the last 10 years of which as Contract Administrator.
His political career began in 1967 when he was elected to the Westchester County Board of Supervisors where he served for two years. He was then elected to the Mount Vernon City Council where he served for 15 years, 4 of those years as Council President.
In 1976, Mayor Blackwood was President of the City Council, and became Acting Mayor when then, Mayor August P. Petrillo died suddenly. He served as Acting Mayor for four months. Denied the nomination for mayor in 1976 and 1979, he unanimously won the Democratic nomination in 1984 to run for mayor in a special election to fill the unexpired term of the then mayor who died one year into his second term of office. Mayor Blackwood won the special election, and as reported in the New York Times, “The scene at Democratic headquarters was reminiscent of the victory celebrations held during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Many in the crowd were crying when Mr. Blackwood emerged an hour after the polls had closed to declare victory. Blacks and whites hugged each other, exchanging kisses. Grown men and women danced with joy.” Mayor Blackwood was quoted as saying “My vision for Mount Vernon is a city where people live in harmony. “ Throughout his life he succeeded in that mission of bringing people together.
Mayor Blackwood served as Mayor for 11 years. He did not run for election for a fourth term, choosing to join his wife, Ann, in retirement after 28 years of public service.
Mayor Blackwood left an enduring legacy in the City of Mount Vernon. He developed innovative programs to provide affordable housing, attracting millions of dollars in state, federal and private investment to improve housing citywide and to develop the Sandford Boulevard retail complex. He was also instrumental in the construction of the police/court facility which was named after him in 1999. He worked tirelessly to address drugs and crime, maintaining fully staffed Police and Fire departments to ensure the safety of residents. His concern for and commitment to the youth of Mount Vernon led to the establishment of The Ronald and Ann Blackwood Scholarship which continues to provide financial support to Mount Vernon high school graduates. He also initiated the annual tree lighting ceremony, the City-wide summer Olympics, as well as the Holocaust ceremony still held annually. Mayor Blackwood was a member of many organizations including Progressive Lodge No. 64 Prince Hall Affiliate.
Mayor Blackwood’s commitment to service did not end with his retirement from public office. Upon settling in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, he continued to be active in his new community. He served as a member and past president of the New Smyrna Beach Rotary; Commodore, New Smyrna Beach Yacht Club; board member of Marine Discovery Center; board member of the Volusia County Council on Aging; thrift shop volunteer and former board member of Habitat for Humanity; and mentor to New Smyrna Beach middle school students. In 2006, Mayor Blackwood was voted Mentor of the Year at the New Smyrna Beach Middle School .
Mayor Blackwood leaves to celebrate his life, his beloved wife of over 38 years, Ann Griffin Blackwood; daughter, Helen M. Blackwood; brother, George Blackwood and his wife, Lorna; sisters-in-law, Dorothy Griffin Kelley and Jane O’Neill; brother-in-law, John Kelley; his long-term mentee Breon Clark; many nieces and nephews; and a host of friends who will remember him as a kind, caring and generous man. Mayor Blackwood lived by his motto: “Life is service. The one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow being a little more, a little better service.”