Barbara Margolis, a longtime volunteer in New York City jails who 20 years ago founded Fresh Start, a widely praised training program that brings the city’s finest chefs to Rikers Island to train inmates in culinary arts, and then helps those inmates find restaurant jobs upon release, died on July 3 in Manhattan.
She was 79 and had homes on the Upper East Side; in Quogue, N.Y.; and in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, in the south of France.
Mrs. Margolis’s death, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was from complications of cancer, her daughter, Nancy Margolis King, said.
Long active in civic affairs, Mrs. Margolis was the New York City commissioner of protocol under Mayor Edward I. Koch. In that capacity, she was the city’s official greeter, welcoming visiting dignitaries like Pope John Paul II and Diana, Princess of Wales, for an annual salary of $1. (On New Year’s Eve 1977, Mayor Koch was sworn in for his first term at the home of Mrs. Margolis and her husband, David I. Margolis, who became one of the mayor’s close advisers.)
All the while, Mrs. Margolis was deeply involved in prison reform. Besides founding Fresh Start, she directed or helped create programs at Rikers in horticulture, journalism and athletics. Several are still going, including three educational, therapeutic and vocational programs run by the Horticultural Society of New York, of which Mrs. Margolis was chairwoman of the board at her death.
A fourth program, developed under Mrs. Margolis’s supervision and also run by the Horticultural Society, is scheduled to start today. It will teach Rikers’s adolescent inmates — 16- and 17-year-old boys — how to turn a large field on the island into a community garden.None of Mrs. Margolis’s associates interviewed last week could recall what first prompted her to volunteer in the city’s jails in the early 1960s. Even her daughter was not completely certain. To those who knew her, Mrs. Margolis was so utterly at home at Rikers that it seemed simply as if she had always been on the island, which is home to one of the largest penal complexes in the world.