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Zella Jones, passionate Noho community stalwart, dies at 77

BY ED YUTKOWITZ | On her Facebook page, Zella Jones described herself as a “Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Activist, New Yorker, Democrat.”

Those words continue to ring true to everyone who knew her — and to the causes and the community to which she was devoted.

Of course, they don’t fully capture her essence. As more than one friend and colleague has said, Zella was a force of nature.

A longtime resident of Noho and activist in Lower Manhattan, Zella passed away on June 16.

Her commitment to her community was second to none. Her energy, her passion, the force of her words and her very presence at a meeting and as a political comrade in arms were all powerful.

The groups in which Zella took leadership roles reads like a who’s who of Lower Manhattan political life. They included the Lower Manhattan Democrats, Chinatown Working Group, Community Task Force on N.Y.U., Housing Matters and the Washington Square Association.

She was also an active member of the New York State Democratic Committee Progressive Caucus.

Her hands-on efforts were legendary. When she was chairperson of the Sidewalks Committee of Community Board 2, she could be seen with a tape measure determining how many tables and chairs were allowable in front of restaurants.

Zella Jones. (Twitter)

She was perhaps best known as the driving force behind NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders Inc., a nonprofit organization comprising property owners, merchants, residents and nonprofit organizations. In this role, she fought to protect her community and make it a better place to live and do business.

An original member of the board of directors of Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth, she helped guide the organization in its earliest days and continued to provide direction until recent months. Alan Gerson, a former District 1 city councilmember and a founder of the organization, noted of Zella, “She felt passionately supportive of the opportunities S.G.H.Y. provides to children in need. She matched her advice and counsel with time-consuming volunteer work while absorbing costs and fees…putting in countless hours, day and night, to render any assistance she could.”

“To know Zella was to know her extraordinary love and devotion to her son, Eben, her grandson, Corey, and, most recently, to their dog, all of whom shared the same Noho loft,” Gerson said. “She could be quite outspoken, and insistent on adherence to standards, ethical and professional — but it was always for the betterment of the community.”

An English literature major at Clark University in Massachusetts, Zella got off to an auspicious start with her communications career in New York. She worked in advertising sales and marketing for Time magazine and as director of marketing for Time/Warner Communications.

For more than 20 years, Zella’s media and marketing company, Market by Market, specialized in strategy and outreach and public affairs for nonprofit, corporate and business clients. Her private practice included developing the Web site for the legal practice of attorney Jonathan Geballe, the current president of Village Independent Democrats, and promoting the unique international theatrical collective, Compagnia de’Colombari.

She also did photography, Web management and social media for several Downtown Manhattan political clubs, including V.I.D. This extended to informally assisting technically challenged officers of the organizations.

“When I became president of V.I.D., I had to send out a formal agenda to our members each month,” Nadine Hoffmann, a former club president, said. “Being computer illiterate, I was constantly frustrated by formatting issues. My solution was always, ‘Zella! Help!’ She would laugh and say, ‘Send it to me. I’ll fix it. Don’t worry.’ This continued throughout my presidency and beyond.”

Councilmember Erik Bottcher, in a tweet mourning Jones’s passing, praised her for “creating the online presence of” V.I.D., which is his home political club.


“She was a very concerned mother, good neighbor and very effective advocate for the causes in which she believed,” said Lois Rakoff, a longtime friend and activist colleague, with whom she worked closely over the years. “People paid attention when she spoke. Under a very direct, very businesslike veneer, she was a warm, caring friend.”

Like so many political activists in the Village, Zella was not originally from New York. She was a native of New Hampshire, where she was born on June 14, 1946. But in her spirit, passion and energy, she was the quintessential New Yorker.

Her son, Eben Jones, perhaps captured Zella’s essence best in a passage he wrote on her Facebook page:

“I regret to inform family and friends, My loving mother Zella Jones has passed away early this morning from her very swift battle with cancer.

“She was and will continue to be a guiding light and force in my life. She left this earth not regretting a single moment of her life: not wanting anyone to feel sad or bad, but only happy in remembrance of better days she has shared with you all.

“Your condolences and well wishes are appreciated, though instead I would ask you think and hold onto a memory you’ve had with her for yourself.

“She would like that.”


  1. Gail Fox Gail Fox July 29, 2023

    Condolences. I remember a phone call from Zella over 20 years ago as she was preparing for a new community project. She asked for input on multiple resources. Her questions were insightful and constructive and, in retrospect, well researched. I still remember the call. We were lucky to have her.

  2. Eben Jones Eben Jones July 23, 2023

    A wonderful summary of my mother. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  3. Rachel Lavine Rachel Lavine July 20, 2023

    Beautiful remembrance of an amazing woman. Zella Jones was so many things: sharp as a whip, engaged, committed, passionate, funny, tough, hard-working, open-hearted and, above all things, kind and devoted to her son and grandson. She was a true New Yorker — someone who chose to move and stay here, and who judged people based on who they were, not what job they held. Zella wanted to make our community and world better, and her work certainly helped move the arc of justice forward. She will be very much missed. May the memory of Zella Jones be for a blessing.

  4. John Bredin John Bredin July 18, 2023

    I remember Zella’s steady, guiding presence at VID meetings. And her wonderful photography. She will be missed. You did a great job in capturing her essence here, Ed.

    • Lois Rakoff Lois Rakoff July 18, 2023

      Zella Jones played an integral part in putting together the complex pieces for the Washington Square Park bench plaque naming for Doris Diether.

  5. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz July 18, 2023

    Sad to see her go. She answered all my pesky reporter’s questions with clarity and verve. Condolences to her family and her dog.

  6. K Webster K Webster July 17, 2023

    Thank you for this remembrance. She was a force of nature, she cared about this community and fought for her beliefs. She will be missed.

  7. Barbara Ruether Barbara Ruether July 17, 2023

    Thank you, Edward, for capturing the essence of the one and only-ever Zella Jones. She will always be missed by many and hopefully her spirit emulated by many as well.

  8. Dal Dal July 17, 2023

    Condolences to Zella’s family, friends, and community. We have large shoes to fill 😢

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