POINT BREEZE was supposed to "die a natural death."
That was the sentence imposed upon it in the late '70s by an official of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development.
The official told Mamie Nichols that there was "nothing planned" for Point Breeze. It was destined to succumb to the urban decay that was already eating at its soul.
But Mamie had other ideas for the 88-block neighborhood of South Philadelphia, and through her drive and determination - often fueled by righteous anger - Point Breeze came back from the lip of the grave.
"Point Breeze would never be the same without Mamie Nichols, believe me," City Council President Anna C. Verna said a few years ago.
Mamie Nichols, a pioneering and much-honored community leader with a booming voice and a reluctance to say no, died July 1 of lung cancer. She was 91 and had lived in Point Breeze since infancy.
In an Inquirer article, reporter Laurie Hollman described Mamie as being "direct, tenacious, articulate as a college professor, but not above using an occasional word that cannot be printed in a family newspaper . . ."
Mamie believed that doing something positive, like planting a garden in a vacant lot for instance, starts a wave of pride that washes over the entire community.
"The way you keep things around you is the way you feel about yourself," she once said.
"You gotta be strong to live in this world," she also said. "This world was not made for weak people."
In 1980, while accepting the William Penn Human Rights Award from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, she said: "The way I feel about life - it's a struggle. You have to stop getting mad and get smart.
"The only people who care about poor black people are poor black people themselves. What I'm about is empowering people to do for themselves."
When her children were growing up, Mamie put a sign in large block letters above her kitchen door - THINK.
All of her six children apparently took the admonition seriously and all went to college.
Mamie started her crusade for Point Breeze - between Broad and 25th streets and Washington Avenue and Moore Street - in the late '60s when she became one of the founders and later executive director of the Point Breeze Federation.
Among her and her group's accomplishments over the years were creating housing for low-income people, establishing the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, of which she became president, and the rehabilitation of the Landreth Building, an ancient school attended by John Wanamaker (1838-1922), at 23rd and Federal streets, into a community center and residence for the elderly.
She was a prime mover in founding the Home and School Association of the George W. Childs Elementary School, believed to be the first in the city.
Among her and her group's major achievements was the planting of hundreds of gardens in vacant lots and planters throughout the community.
It was in the late '70s that another community activist, Haroldine Trower, told Mamie that her dream was to see flowers growing on every block of Point Breeze.
Mamie was hesitant. Asked in 1992 by Daily News writer Dan Geringer why that was, she replied: "I am all thumbs. We've got a lot of serious gardeners down here. I am not one of them. I couldn't grow a cactus."
But she could dig and weed, and that's what she did as her part in the greening of Point Breeze, that and collaring city officials to chip in with some financing and residents to get behind the projects.
In those days, a lot of Point Breeze looked like a war zone. It was an urban wasteland of abandoned buildings and garbage-strewn lots. Drug dealers sprouted like weeds and held many blocks in thrall.
But Mamie had a dream of her own: One day a Greyhound bus will swing into the neighborhood, she said, and the announcer will say, "This is where low-income people live with pride and dignity. You are now entering Point Breeze."
Mamie was born Mamie Melton in Norfolk, Va., and was brought to South Philadelphia as a toddler.
She married Russell Nichols Sr. in 1943. He died in 1976.
While raising their six children, she held different jobs, including working as a nonteaching assistant at South Philadelphia High School.
With her children well on their way to college, Mamie decided to return to school herself. She earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Temple University and a master's in counseling from Antioch University.
Mamie was a member of the City Planning Commission for a number of years, and the boards of the Friends of the Free Library, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Green and the Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition.
She had so many awards and plaques there was no more room on her walls. Most recently, she was honored last September when the Diversified Community Services Center's new building was named the Mamie Nichols Center.
She was a rector warden at St. Simon the Cyrenian Episcopal Church, of which she had been a member for 50 years.
She is survived by two daughters, Rebecca McJett and Rochelle Nichols Solomon; four sons, Russell Nichols Jr., Ronald Nichols, Reginald Nichols and Richard Nichols; 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services: Memorial service 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Simon the Cyrenian Episcopal Church, 1401 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia 19146.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the church, or Diversified Community Services @ Dixon House, 1920 S. 20th St., Philadelphia 19145, or Art Sanctuary, 1801 W. Diamond St., Philadelphia 19121. *