Vaughan Toney, community advocate succumbs to cancer

The late Vaughan Toney seen here receiving a plaque after SVG PM Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, right, announced Toney's appointment as Ambassador-at-Large in September 2022. Consul General Rondy "Luta" McIntosh is also in photo.
The late Vaughan Toney seen here receiving a plaque after SVG PM Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, right, announced Toney’s appointment as Ambassador-at-Large in September 2022. Consul General Rondy “Luta” McIntosh is also in photo.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The Brooklyn-based Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers, Inc. (FOCH) on Monday announced the passing of its longtime president and chief executive officer, Vincentian-born, Vaughan Toney. He was 68.

Hugh Hamilton, the Guyanese-born director of communications and program development at FOCH, said Toney died earlier on Monday, Labor Day, “following a fiercely fought battle against cancer.”

In a career spanning more than four decades of exemplary public service and advocacy in the fields of child care and early childhood education, legislative reform, community empowerment and political activism, Toney was the recipient of numerous awards and commendations celebrating his lifelong commitment and leadership in the service of others, Hamilton said.

In September 2022, Toney was formally accredited by the Government of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as an Ambassador-at-Large in recognition of his outstanding service to the Vincentian Diaspora.

“As a result of a government decision, Mr. Vaughan Toney is appointed as Ambassador-at-large for St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Gonsalves in making the announcement during a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers, 671 Prospect Place, Brooklyn.

“A diplomatic passport will be provided to His Excellency Mr. Vaughan Toney at the earliest opportunity,” added the Vincentian leader to sustained, standing ovation.

Toney, a native of the town of Calliaqua in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said, at the time, that the appointment was “by far, the crowning achievement of my public service in the Vincentian community at home and abroad over the past 40 years.

“For me, public service has been both a calling and the blessing of a lifetime,” he said. “It has been and will continue to be a labor of love, because there can be no greater good than the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”

Toney said he was grateful to Prime Minister Gonsalves and the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for bestowing on him the high honor.

“I am profoundly moved, deeply honored and sincerely humbled by the trust and confidence that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has invested in me through this appointment,” he said, stating that the distinction had caused him to “reflect more deeply upon the arc of my own life and my purpose for being.

“I have been fortunate and privileged to hold many positions of public trust over the course of my career, and I look forward to being of continued service in advancing the best interests and wellbeing of my fellow Vincentians in whatever capacity I am summoned to serve,” he said.

Noting that he will be forever indebted to the many others who have taught, cared for and otherwise helped him along the journey from childhood as a boy in Calliaqua to president and chief executive officer of a leading not-for-profit enterprise in New York City, Toney had pledged to uphold only the highest standards of integrity and patriotism in executing the duties of his new office.

“I am forever mindful of the fact that much is expected of those to whom God has been so generous in his blessings,” he said, “for, in the end, the measure of a man is not how much he is able to accumulate in life but how much of that blessing he is willing to invest and share in the service of others.”

Vaughan Peter Adrian Toney was born on Jun. 29,1955 in Calliaqua, a small town close to the southernmost point on mainland St. Vincent.

As a teenager, he migrated to New York in 1969 to join his mother Ela, a professional nurse.

On completing his secondary education, Toney enrolled as a student at the State University of New York (Albany), where he served as an elected member of the student governing body while concurrently working as a student intern in the office of then-State Assemblyman Angelo del Toro.

Hamilton said Toney’s passion for service and aptitude for hard work gained him early attention.

On graduating from SUNY Albany in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Hamilton said Toney was recruited directly to the staff of the New York State Assembly Education Committee, “where he served with distinction” as legislative assistant to Chairman Leonard Stavisky, a former professor of history and government.

When Stavisky acceded to the New York State Senate six years later, Hamilton said Toney followed as senior staff analyst and special assistant to the senator.

“For the young Vaughan Toney, it was an assignment he would later describe as ‘the pivotal experience and opportunity of a lifetime,’” Hamilton said.

In 1992, following the adoption of a new City Charter and an expanded, more representative New York City Council, Toney left Albany to serve as Chief-of -Staff to Council Member Una Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman elected to the New York City Legislature.

Four years later, he moved on to accept the position of Chief-of-staff to Belizean the Rev. Dr. Lloyd Henry, representing the adjacent 45th Council District in Central Brooklyn.

In both capacities, Hamilton said Toney crafted the legislative strategy that brought tens of millions of dollars in capital investment and economic stimulus to the Flatbush, East Flatbush and surrounding communities of Central Brooklyn.

“He was instrumental in brokering the public-private partnerships that led to the establishment of the Flatbush Business Improvement District, and creation of the Flatbush Triangle Junction Mall – a landmark commercial revitalization project that reinvigorated the entire Flatbush-Nostrand retail corridor and brought new life to the densely populated vicinity of nearby Brooklyn College,” Hamilton said.

Amid these political engagements, Toney also pursued studies toward a Master’s degree in Public Administration at New York University.

“Take your well-deserved rest Ambassador Vaughan Toney,” said Hamilton on Monday. “Condolences to his close and extended family and the entire Vincentian and Caribbean American community.”

He said funeral arrangements will be announced “as they are released by the family.”