March 31, 2021

Community Leader Phyllis Marchand Dies at 81

PAYING TRIBUTE: Friends, colleagues, and members of the public who admired Phyllis Marchand gave her funeral procession an ovation as it passed through Princeton on Tuesday morning.

By Anne Levin

On Tuesday morning, nearly 100 people stood on the corners of Witherspoon and Wiggins streets to pay tribute to Phyllis Marchand, who died of cancer on Thursday, March 25 at the age of 81. As Marchand’s funeral procession passed, the gathering of local officials, friends, and admirers — some holding “Thank You Phyllis” signs — broke into spontaneous applause.

Phyllis Marchand

It was a brief but emotional farewell to the former Princeton Township mayor, Township Committee member, marathon runner, mother, and grandmother, who remained active in many community causes despite her 15-year battle with lymphoma. Marchand served in local government for 22 years; 14 of them as mayor.

Marchand is survived by her husband of 57 years, Sy Marchand; her three children Michael, Deborah, and Sarah; and eight grandchildren. Phyllis Steinberg Marchand was a native of New York City and a graduate of Skidmore College. She worked in Manhattan’s publishing industry and moved with her husband to Princeton in 1966.

At the time of her death, she was chair of the D&R Greenway Board of Trustees and was active in several other area organizations including the Princeton YWCA, McCarter Theatre, HomeFront, Planned Parenthood, the Coalition for Peace Action, the D&R Canal Commission, Princeton-Pettoranello Sister City Foundation, the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the Mercer Council for Alcohol and Drug Addiction, Corner House, the Jewish Center of Princeton, Cancer Care, the Princeton Garden Theatre, and the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

On a special website (, several people wrote messages of appreciation to Marchand before she died. Since March 25, numerous others have written to her family.

“I am one of hundreds of people who admired Phyllis for her bravery, tenacity, good spirits, commitment to service and so much more,” wrote Eleanor Horne, trustee of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “To say that she is an inspiration does not begin to capture her impact. I know no one else like her. I know that she is leaving a huge hole in the hearts of her family, friends, and this community. Her spirit will live on as we continue to work on the causes that mattered so much to her.”

Linda Mead, executive director of D&R Greenway,  wrote, “A woman larger than life is hard to lose: Determined. Courageous. Committed to community and causes. Fun! Leader. Friend. And her favorite roles: wife, mother, grandmother. Hers is an impression that no one can forget.”

Emily Mann, former artistic director of McCarter Theatre, wrote, “Since I arrived in Princeton over 30 years ago, Phyllis was part of my life as a friend, a mentor, a supporter and my greatest role model. She exemplified what authentic community leadership is and showed me how women’s leadership can be transformative to a community, leading through love, humor, joy, and boundless enthusiasm. Her intelligence operated on all levels — from matchmaking to political organizing— and her support always felt like family. Whenever I introduced her, it was always as Princeton’s mayor, whether she was in office or not! In my mind, she was and always will be the mayor of Princeton.”

Mayor Mark Freda said this week, “Phyllis cared about Princeton and that was seen through all her years on Princeton Township Committee, and all the different causes and groups she supported.  It was always a joy to see her at meetings or events, and to talk to her and get her take on what was happening.  Her family can be very proud of the legacy she leaves behind.  I remember fondly working with her many times in a Township Committeewoman to a Borough Councilman relationship and both of us just pushing for what was best for the overall town.”

Former Mayor Liz Lempert wrote in an email, “Phyllis had an enormous impact on Princeton, especially the former Township, and touched many people’s lives, including my own, through her many, many years of public service. It’s hard to imagine Princeton without her. She will be sorely missed.”

Architect J. Robert “Bob” Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder, said, “Phyllis was amazing with her energy, intelligence, perseverance, caring, and leadership through mentorship, all delivered with creativity and humor. We should not lose sight of all that changed during her tenure as the mayor of Princeton Township: The offices moved from the Valley Road School into a new Town Hall, a new library was built, McCarter Theatre flourished, Princeton Hospital began its move to Plainsboro, and, the truth be told, Phyllis called me to step into the Hovnanian contract and create senior housing that became Copperwood with 17 acres of preserved woods on the ridge.  She also convinced me, along with D&R Greenway, to preserve Coventry Farm while releasing the west side of the Great Road to become athletic fields for the town. To say she was amazing is an understatement!”

To send condolences to Marchand’s family, visit Contributions in her memory can be made to the Marchand Espir Family Holocaust Education Fund at the Princeton Jewish Center, D&R Greenway, and HomeFront. A celebration of her life will be held at a later date.