Nelly Celi, a well-known education activist and president of the Paterson Library Board of Trustees, died on Wednesday.
Celi was 51.
It’s not clear how she died or what was the cause of death.
“I lost a friend. I lost a sister. I lost a woman who always was there for the community, no matter who they are. She always was there,” said Maria Rivas, who has been friends with Celi for 30 years.
Both women worked hand-in-hand five years go to get the City Council to create Peru Square on Market Street.
Celi was heavily involved in local politics. She ran unsuccessfully multiple times to win a seat on the Board of Education. She also tried her luck in a write-in campaign for a City Council seat in 2018. She also moderated numerous Board of Education candidates’ forums for the Paterson Education Fund over the years.
“I was with her yesterday,” said Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund, on Thursday. They were both at the Great Falls for a fair. “We were there handing out books and talking to people about Paterson Reads.”
Grant said Celi was in good spirts. “It was a shock when I learned this morning. She died at home,” said Grant.
Celi volunteered for Paterson Education Fund and later joined as a staff member.
Grant described her as a “wise woman.” She said they had plans to meet up on Monday.
Celi was appointed to the Library Board in 2013. Her colleagues picked her to serve as president three different times.
“I was in shock when I got the call,” said Corey Fleming, director of the Paterson Free Public Library. “Paterson lost a great advocate and a community servant.”
That was apparent from the shock local leaders expressed at her sudden death.
“Paterson has lost a champion for our children,” said mayor Andre Sayegh.