Happy, whose resume rings with civic accomplishment, had a long way to go in her public-service career at that time, but she was 60 years old and maybe feeling a bit testy.
However, she went on to head the Moore College of Art and Design and lead it into a new era of prosperity - with her fundraising skills - and expansion, thanks to her drive and imagination.
Happy Craven Fernandez, former two-term City Council member, longtime Temple University professor, a liberal Democrat and lifelong civic activist and advocate for children and education, died Saturday. She had suffered a stroke after lung surgery and was placed in hospice care Jan. 14. She was 74.
Her sudden decline and death took family and friends by surprise.
"She was in such good health," said her son, David. "It was a real shock."
Happy was always physically active, playing tennis, kayaking, swimming and hiking at the family summer home in Squam Lake, N.H.
At age 58, she kicked the butt of a radio disc jockey 10 years her junior after he made disparaging remarks on the air about female athletes. She beat Al Morganti in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1, in a match at Penn's Levy Tennis Pavilion that raised funds for charity.
Morganti said he would challenge Happy to another match - "when she's 70."
Last year, Happy and her husband, the Rev. Richard Fernandez, retired director of the Northwest Interfaith Movement, visited Vietnam, China, Turkey and India on a long-anticipated trip to remote regions of the globe.
Throughout her enormously productive career in the civic, political and educational realms of the city of Philadelphia, her pet peeve was always the dearth of female candidates for public office, as well as in leadership positions in government. Not only in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, but generally across the U.S.
Her loss as the one and only female candidate for mayor of Philadelphia, however painful, left her still hopeful.
"In different times and different circumstances, a woman will eventually win in this city," she predicted.
Women's advocates are still scanning the horizon for that candidate who might someday lead the city as mayor. The hope fades and remains elusive.
"Politics in this city have been dominated by men, that's just the way it is," she said as late as 2007 when there were only two women in the field of 19 at-large City Council candidates, and only one had a chance to win.
"Politics has such a horrible reputation in this state," she said on another occasion. "It's still perceived as a man's game - tough and nasty. I remember when I first ran, people would say, 'Why does a nice woman like you want to run?' "
Happy didn't make it past the Democratic primary in her bid for mayor in May 1999, despite a platform that focused on improving public education, child care and the quality of life in neighborhoods. She finished with 6.3 percent of the vote, just ahead of state Rep. Dwight Evans.
John F. Street won the primary and went on to be elected mayor in November.
Happy was a respected academic, a professor at Temple University's School of Social Administration, a former chairwoman of Americans for Democratic Action, founder of the Children's Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the Parents Union for Public Schools and Democratic committeewoman of the 24th Ward when she decided to dip a toe in the nasty swamp of city politics by running for Council at-large.
That was 1987, and she lost badly in the Democratic primary, coming in eighth for five at-large seats.
But she came back strong in 1991 when she took on Henry "Buddy" Cianfrani as a campaign consultant, and won the at-large seat. She was re-elected four years later, but resigned to run for mayor in 1999.
Happy always did well in Hispanic neighborhoods, because voters thought she was Latino. She wasn't.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who was mayor when Happy was in City Council, praised her as a "terrific city councilwoman, so focused and determined."
He credited her with helping to deal with the massive fiscal problems that he inherited when he took office in 1992 and turning the city back to solvency.
"She cared passionately about the city and especially its children," Mayor Nutter said. "During her time on City Council she was focused, policy-driven and she kept her word. She always acted with grace, a smile and kindness.
"She was a deeply caring person who believed that government has a critical role in protecting the vulnerable and that public education is the way forward for a just and prosperous city."
"Happy Fernandez was an extraordinary person," said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. "She dedicated her long career to her adopted city, as a community leader, member of City Council, and president of Moore College of Art and Design. It was my honor to work with Happy on numerous projects for the betterment of our city."
"She was a progressive with guts, one who wanted to master the political game and get results," said Dave Davies, WHYY reporter who covered Happy as a radio reporter and former reporter for the Daily News.
"She left her mark on Philadelphia politics, and influenced many lives for the better."
Happy was born Gladys Vivian Craven in Omaha, Neb. She married Richard Fernandez, a United Church of Christ minister, in 1961. They lived in University City for 40 years.
She overcame a childhood bout with polio to become a winner in the National Junior Girls Championships, held in Philadelphia in 1955, her first visit to the city.
She earned a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College, a master's in education from Harvard, a master's from the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in urban education from Temple.
"She always found a way to connect with people," said her son David. "She was completely engaged in whatever she was doing. She didn't have lighthearted conversations. She wanted to talk about important things, not trivial ones."
For his three children, grandmom was all about "apple and blueberry pies, kayaking in New Hampshire. She was very low-key and humble."
When Happy announced her candidacy for City Council in 1991, she was quoted as saying: "City Council has been dominated by flying fists and pointing fingers. We need more joining of hands."
She was named president of Moore College of Art and Design, a nationally regarded women's art school, in August 1999.
When she announced her retirement in May 2011, Art Block, chairman of Moore's board of managers, said, "Dr. Fernandez has transformed the college. Moore is a stronger, more resilient institution today due to her extraordinary leadership, energy and commitment.
"Her creative vision has led to academic innovation, capital improvements and financial stability. Under her leadership, enrollment has increased 29 percent.
"She has raised record amounts of money that resulted in the college's first capital campaign, the college's first endowed professorship, and many new endowed scholarships and capital improvements.
"Thanks to her guidance, the college has a greater capability to address future opportunities and challenges."
Besides her husband and son, she is survived by two other sons, Rich and John, and eight grandchildren.
Services: Were being arranged Sunday evening.