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Esther Bush speaks about the late Elsie Hillman
elmer-McClung for-whos-who 2012 Speaks of late Elsie Hillman
hopkendrick 2012 Speaks of late Elsie Hillman

Esther Bush-President and CEO of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, Elmer McClung-a former aide to Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn and Louis “Hop” Kendrick-New Pittsburgh Courier columnist

When Elsie Hillman died last week at 89, she was lauded as a philanthropist and Republican supporter. But her contributions to Pittsburgh’s Black community should never be underestimated.

Esther Bush never will. The President and CEO of the Urban League of Pittsburgh experienced Hillman’s commitment and dedication first hand.

“She cared about people and Pittsburgh, and was entirely unpretentious—she was real people,” said Bush. “She took stands on issues like supporting African Americans, supporting women, supporting gays and lesbians. Every public position she took was because it was the right thing, the human thing to do.”

Hillman supported a number of African American organizations, usually quietly. But occasionally, as with her most recent contribution to the Hill House Association—the renovation at the Kauffman Center creating Hillman Auditorium at—her name was in the forefront.

Cheryl Hall-Russell remembered Hillman on the organization’s web page, calling her “an integral part of the establishment of the Hill House Association, a tremendous supporter and champion of this organization for its more than five decades of existence.”

“She was one of the first people who reached out to me when I came to Pittsburgh,” said Hall-Russell. “She was a kind ear and I had a lot of respect for her. She was one of the last generation of moderates who understood civil exchange, of finding value in the opinions of those who disagreed. That voice will definitely be missed.”

New Pittsburgh Courier columnist Louis “Hop” Kendrick said she saved the state Republican Party at a time when it was threatening to go ultra-conservative. She helped get Hugh Scott elected to the U.S. House and later the U.S. Senate, and still later helped moderates Bill Scranton and Richard Thornburg win the governorship.

“Scranton had said he’s appoint a Black to his cabinet, but after he won his memory got foggy. Elsie reminded him of his promise and Bill Young joined his administration,” said Kendrick. “She helped so many people. She was just a genuine, caring person.”

Elmer McClung, former aide to Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn, said he was stunned when he heard his old friend had died.

“Her contributions to the Black community were amazing, but she was always very low-key about what she did,” he said. “She was sincere.

McClung mentioned a few examples of her sincerity from his campaigns for Pittsburgh council back in 1985 and 1987.

“Back then, I didn’t drive—Elsie would come and pick me up and drive me to my appointments,” he said. “She held fundraisers for me. One was at the Duquesne Club; another was at the Pittsburgh Golf Club. Those were places that were way off limits to Blacks. She did that.”

McClung said Elsie also made sure he was a delegate to the National Convention to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988.

“Elsie Hillman was my friend, in spite of other people’s feelings—Black and White—about my interracial marriage at the time. It never bothered her, not once,” he recalled.  “She said, ‘you are you, Elmer.’ It was always about support—not grandstanding, just support. She’s done so much for the Black community and people will never know.  She will be missed.”

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Source: Christian Morrow.


Date Published: 
Thursday, August 13, 2015 | 412-765-1820 |

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