On this day in 2006: Legendary Detroit official Maryann Mahaffey died 

    Maryann Mahaffey | Wayne State University photo

    Maryann Mahaffey, a longtime Detroit City Council president and leading progressive activist, died on July 27, 2006.

    Mahaffey was born Burlington, Iowa. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell College, a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. Mahaffey served Detroit City Council president for 12 years and as a council member for 32 years. She also is a member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

    Her political career began in the 1960s with an appointment as a special full-time consultant to Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh on parks, recreation and social service. She was active in many organizations related to nutrition, women in politics, peace and ending discrimination.

    Mahaffey led the way in creating and helping to fund a rape crisis unit, pushed for legislation that regulated homeless shelters and apartment rentals and helped to expand the city healthcare benefits to include same-sex couples.

    Mahaffey died from health complications related to leukemia. She was 81.

    Jennifer Granholm, who was Michigan governor at the time of Mahaffey’s death, called her “an extraordinary force not only in Detroit but in Michigan.

    “Maryann was a voice for those who could not be heard, and she gave hope when none was on the horizon. She was one of the most admired and beloved public servants anywhere, and for me, she was a mentor, a role model and a friend.”

    Maryann Mahaffey Memorial Garden rendering | Wayne State University photo

    A move is currently underway at Wayne State University to remember Mahaffey’s commitment to the community. She taught there as a professor in the Department of Social Work. A memorial garden is planned at WSU and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant playground for Detroit children is also in the works. 

    Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work, once interned in Mahaffey’s City Council office. 

    “Maryann was an incredible mentor…she demonstrated the kind of integrity that gives the opportunity for social change,” Kubiak said. “She was a tiny woman, but she had a presence. She could be respective but pointed. She was larger than life but so humble and empathetic.”

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.