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Queens Chronicle

Sandiford, Branch mourned at CB 12

Moment of silence for two leaders in the community and culture

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Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Jan 30, 2014.

A lone chair remained in place atop an array of tables in the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center as Community Board 12 prepared for its monthly meeting on Jan. 15.

It was the chair occupied for many years by Cardinal Sandiford, a 14-year veteran of the board, its long-serving Land Use Committee chairman, and a fixture at area events of every nature.

Sandiford, of Springfield Gardens, died on Dec. 26. The retired vice president of Local SEIU 144 Service Employees Union was 84.

Two days later, John Watusi Brown, co-founder of Jamaica’s African Poetry Theatre and a force in the Queens arts community, passed away at 70.

Both men were remembered last Wednesday with a moment of silence, and with fond remembrances.

“I was looking at that chair all night,” Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of CB 12, said afterward.

Sandiford had diabetes and lost an eye to complications from cataract surgery three years ago.

Adams, with the booklet from his memorial service still in her bag, said he had a gift for work on the board.

“He was a true leader,” she said. And he was never afraid to speak his mind.

While many communities fight group homes of all stripes, Sandiford last May led the charge for approval of a facility sought by the Cerebral Palsy Association, citing the group’s two-decade track record as a good neighbor on an adjacent residential property.

Last October he was in a heated and decidedly one-sided exchange with a representative of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, directly accusing the group of circumventing local land use approvals in its quest for a new hotel across from the Long Island Rail Road complex on Sutphin Boulevard.

“He was a direct man,” Adams acknowledged with a smile.

Branch’s dream of a center that could expand local exposure to the arts began in 1976 and, according to the theater’s website, opened for good in 1978 at its first permanent home on Merrick Boulevard in 1978.

It relocated to its present site at 176-03 Jamaica Ave. a year later.

“He was a giant,” said Michael Hargraves, a member of the executive board at the theater that would develop children’s programs and introduced generations of residents to poetry, theatre, film, dance and music.

The group also ran travel groups to Africa. Back in December, following the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Branch told the Chronicle that he nearly met Mandela on one of those trips with a student group before the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was forced to cancel due to a scheduling conflict — still not bad for an arts group started out of a Merrick Boulevard basement.

“Sometimes he kept that going with a shoestring and rubber bands,” Hargraves said. “But he kept it going.”.

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