sylvia woods*(Via NBC New York) – Sylvia Woods, the matriarch of the famed Harlem restaurant that bore her name and a New York City icon, died Thursday at her Westchester home, family members said in a statement.

She was 86 and had been battling Alzheimer’s disease, her family said.

“She gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile,” said her granddaughter Tren’ness Woods-Black.

Woods had been scheduled to receive an award Thursday night at a Grace Mansion reception commemorating the 50th anniversary of her restaurant. Instead, there was a moment of silence in her honor.

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The mayor, along with Williams, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Tim Zagat, presented the award  to a family friend, who accepted it on the family’s behalf. The event was part of the annual Harlem Week reception at Gracie Mansion.

Woods, born in Hemingway, S.C., worked at a restaurant in Harlem for eight years before buying it in 1962.

“When the person she worked for decided to sell it, she asked if she could buy it,” Lloyd Williams of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce said at the Gracie Mansion reception. “Sylvia’s mother mortgaged the farm in order for them to get the restaurant, and the rest is history.

Reverend Al Sharpton issued this statement:

“Rev. Al Sharpton and National Action Network are saddened by the loss of the  “Queen of Soul Food” Sylvia Woods. Sylvia was not just a pillar in the community but her brand resonated across the world and her business acumen helped put Harlem on the map.

“Sylvia’s has been more than a restaurant, it has been a meeting place for Black America. Rev. Al Sharpton has dined at Sylvia’s for decades with everyone from President Obama to Caroline Kennedy.  National Action Network has held our leadership summits there and will continue to do so in honor of the Matriarch of the Woods family, Sylvia Woods.”

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