On Tuesday, October 24, the city of Miami Gardens came together to bid a heartfelt farewell to its beloved inaugural mayor, Shirley Gibson, who passed away on October 16 at 79. A funeral service held Tuesday morning at New Way Fellowship Baptist Church saw an outpouring of love and respect for a woman who was more than a political figure; she was a community icon, matriarch, and pioneer.

“Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” These touching lyrics resonated within the church walls as hundreds gathered to remember Gibson’s profound impact. Described as a modern-day Harriet Tubman, Gibson was celebrated as a woman of many facets—a devoted mother, grandmother, a former Miami-Dade police officer, and a Sunday school teacher. Mourners praised her lifelong commitment to service, with many sharing fond memories of her impact on their lives.

“This is a sad day for our city. We lost our matriarch,” Miami Gardens Mayor Rodney Harris, who attended the memorial service with fellow councilmembers, shared. “On her shoulders, we stand—all of us. Words aren’t enough to express the hurt that we feel, but words can say we love Shirley. Thank God we were able to give her flowers while she lived.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava expressed her deep admiration: “Mayor Gibson was a dear friend, someone I admired, someone who mentored me. Someone I loved deeply. She’s a role model… she’s a maverick. Let us never forget the great lessons she’s taught all of us as to how to live a life of faith… a life of action, a life of justice.”

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Her commitment to the community during her tenure as the city’s mayor from 2003 to 2012 was spotlighted, particularly for birthing the popular Jazz in the Gardens music festival. This event not only brings joy to thousands each year but also contributes millions of dollars in direct spending to the city. Pastor Wendell Baskin of the New Way Fellowship Praise & Worship Center, in a nod to the late mayor’s creation, said, “Good morning, I want to welcome you to Jazz in the Gardens.”

Shirley Gibson was also remembered for her tenacity, especially in her efforts to create Miami Gardens, now the largest predominantly Black city in Florida. Hans Ottinot, who served as interim city attorney during the city’s infancy, recalled how Gibson converted opponents to supporters, including the late Dolphins stadium and team owner Wayne Huizenga.

“Mayor Gibson, like Harriet Tubman, took her people to the promised land,” Ottinot expressed. “The stories describe Harriet Tubman as a freedom fighter, a leader, smart, tough, fearless, spiritual, determined… I believe this is an accurate description of Mayor Gibson. She fought to create a government to enhance the quality of life, absolutely rejecting the idea that Black people in Miami-Dade County could not self-govern and provide for themselves.”

The eulogy, delivered by Pastor David Ramjohn, called on attendees to embody Gibson’s spirit of service. “If you want to embody and celebrate Miss Shirley Gibson, you better walk out of here ready to serve,” he urged.

Following the service, in a final, poignant act, Gibson’s body rode past Miami Gardens City Hall—which bears her name—one last time, symbolizing the indelible mark she has left on the community she loved and served.