Politicians, dignitaries and other high profile people, as well as the common folks came out to pay their respects to one of the most prominent and respected men in Pittsburgh history.
Robert R. Lavelle, 94, a resident of the Hill District, passed away peacefully on July 4. Lavelle’s homegoing service was held at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District, July 9. Lavelle was laid to rest at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville.
|FAMILY FAREWELL—Sons Robert M. Lavelle and John W. Lavelle, with their mother, widow Adah Moore Lavelle, at Allegheny Cemetery.
He will always be remembered for his faithful devotion to God’s word and for his many years as an elder, a Sunday School teacher, and Wednesday night Bible study and worship service leader at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church; as a Realtor who founded his own business in 1951 and in 1969 incorporated it as Lavelle Real Estate; and as a banker who served as a director of Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, a minority-controlled institution, for more than 50 years.
City Councilman Robert Daniel Lavelle is the grandson of Robert R. Lavelle and said he has learned a lot from his grandfather.
“My grandfather was a very hard working man who was concerned with the betterment of other’s lives,” he said. “He always said that we must shoulder our own responsibilities and encourage others to do the same. I believe he was aware of the impact he had on the community, but his larger concern was to open up doors for others to run through. When my sister and I were growing up, my grandfather told us that when you see a problem, you have a responsibility to address it and find a solution. My grandfather fought those issues so that others would not have to. The center of his thoughts and actions were based in the Word. Whenever he faced an issue of how to move forward, he did it based on what the Lord led him to do. My grandfather viewed his life as the Good Samaritan.”
ROBERT R. LAVELLE
His sons, Robert M. Lavelle and John Lavelle, along with daughter-in-law Phillis Lavelle, shared their views about his life and legacy and how close he was to the Lord and how he wanted everyone to know about Jesus Christ.
“He was always out there trying to help people and get involved in their lives,” Robert M. Lavelle said. “I remember I used to say to him that you can’t mind their business and he would disagree with me. He would say that God put him here to help others no matter what type of help it was. Without regard to the restrictions we impose on ourselves, he believed that it was his duty to help others in any way he could.”
“It’s impossible to calculate the legacy of my dad,” John Lavelle said. “So many people have came through and told me how he touched their lives. He loved the Lord and he tried to convert everyone he met to get a relationship with God. We know that he is with God now, so we are not that upset that he passed away. We are just grateful that he was a part of our lives.”
“I called him dad and I would say that dad was just a regular ordinary man who loved the Lord,” Phillis Lavelle added. “God was first in his life and service to the community was second. He gave service through Lavelle Restate and Dwelling House Savings and Loan. Many people in this city know dad for his housing and banking businesses. People in the community say he is an icon, but he would say that he did what he did through God’s grace and that is where the glory and honor should be given, to God.”
The son of Rev. Franklin Pierce Lavelle and Mary Anderson Lavelle, he was born Oct. 4, 1915 in Cleveland, Tenn. He was the sixth of eight children and the last survivor of the siblings. He attended Westinghouse High School; dropped out to get a job and help at home; then finished high school at Schenley High School. He attended night school at the University of Pittsburgh and earned a bachelor’s of science in 1951 and a master’s of letters in 1954. He received honorary doctorate degrees from Geneva College in 1984 and Gordon College in 1989. In 1995, the University of Pittsburgh named a four-year scholarship in his honor—the Robert R. Lavelle Business Scholarship.
He married Adah Moore Lavelle in July 1942 and would have celebrated 68 years of marriage this July 25.
In May 1943 he was inducted into the army during World War II. He advanced every grade and was honorably discharged in 1946 as a first lieutenant.
“Grandpa was a man who wanted to help the community, particularly African-Americans, achieve the America Dream. He wanted to show them the way to Jesus Christ and counsel them on how to do business,” said Rachel Lavelle.
“Robert Lavelle was groundbreaking in a lot of ways and he helped a lot of families build financial health and he always preached the word of God,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley. “He had a very giving heart and his legacy will go on for years to come.”
“When they made him, they broke the mold. He valued education, which was important to him. He was a part of so many boards in the city of Pittsburgh and he always stressed the importance of education and where it can take you in life,” said Rev. John Welch.
After starting his real estate business and while trying to obtain a mortgage for a client at Dwelling House Building and Loan—a small German association in the Hill District—he learned that the association was about to close. After a brief meeting, the existing directors elected him a director and he then moved into his real estate office. Lavelle served the association as a director, executive vice president and chief executive officer for more than 50 years.
In 1967 in federal district court with a case involving use of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust laws, he filed suit against the local all White Realtors group (multilist) that had denied him membership. He won an out of court settlement and became the first Black member of the local multilist. In doing so, he opened the way for all Black and other minority Realtors to become multilist members across the country.
“I feel very blessed that he was with us for 94 years and that his life and legacy is something that we will hold on to forever. The Urban League has a housing department so I totally understand what he did. I also have to smile because he was so spir
itual in the work he did. He wanted to make sure that your soul was right,” said Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Pittsburgh.
“It has been such a blessing knowing him for the short time I did. I have been the pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church for over a year and half and he was one of the first people I met. His legacy preceded his actions, meeting him face to face. Sometimes the only Bible that people will read is the life we live. He was the word in action. I was blessed by him attending our regularly Monday night Bible study. He shared theology and we had a very good relationship,” said Rev. David Thornton.
Sala Udin spoke eloquently at the homegoing service about Lavelle and what major contributions he gave to the community and the world as a whole.
“What Robert R. Lavelle did for the community cannot be summed up in a few sound bites. He’s been on this earth for 94 years and all of those years were full of productive work helping others. His commitment to service was ageless, so young people, middle-aged and older people have a lesson to learn by not only what he preached, but the life that he lived,” said Udin.
Bomani Howze, program officer of the Heinz Endowment’s Innovation Economy Program, learned a lot from Lavelle.
“He was a giant and a trailblazer. He saw the problems of how African-Americans were not able to get a fair shot at receiving mortgages and he did something about it. He created Dwelling House Savings and Loan to benefit the African-American community and White people as well. He did this for everyone who did not have the lending opportunities for that cornerstone of wealth, which is homeownership. We’ve lost a great giant, but hopefully we will continue on with the work that he has laid before us and he will be missed,” said Howze.
“I’ve known Mr. Lavelle for years and we happened to both be from Tennessee. I think what he’s done for our community, will last forever. He was a truly a legend and he will be missed by everyone,” said Luther and Roxanne Sewell of Talk Magazine.
“He was a major institution and I consider him to be family. The story has been told that the Lavelles introduced my parents who were Jake Milliones and Margaret Milliones. Hard work and dedication are the keys to success and that is what we should take away from his legacy,” said Beatina Milliones-Nance.
“Robert R. Lavelle is like an uncle to me and my mother, Margaret Milliones. In many ways, I feel like me and my siblings would not be here without Robert R. Lavelle,” said Marimba Milliones.
“Robert R. Lavelle was a living witness who practiced what he preached. Younger people should see more images of Robert R. Lavelle,” said Rev. Glenn Grayson of Wesley Center AMEZ Church.
“He was one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. He loved the Lord and his spirit, faith in Jesus Christ along with his commitment to the community is something that we should take away from his legacy,” said policewoman Brenda Tate.
“Bob is one of my personal heroes in the city of Pittsburgh. He never left the Hill District, even in times of trouble he said I’m not leaving. He stood the course and kept on moving,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
Robert R. Lavelle is survived by his wife of 68 years—Adah Moore Lavelle; son Robert M. Lavelle and daughter-in-law Phillis D. Lavelle; son John F. Lavelle and daughter-in-law Doris Rascoe Lavelle; grandchildren Jacquelyn and Andre Thom, and Robert Daniel and Rachel Lavelle; sister-in-law Jane Moore Mabrey; cousin Rosalyn Eskridge; and many nieces, nephews and friends.