The Elsie Awards

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Elsie Award honorees are a rare breed. The list includes Michael Keaton, Barbara Bush, Fred Rodgers, John Edgar Wideman, and Elsie Hillman. On Sept. 29 at the Carnegie Music Hall (drum roll please) the Elsie Award was presented to George L. Miles Jr., retired president and CEO of WQED Multimedia.

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WE WANT TO BE LIKE GEORGE—Yvonne Cook, Christine Cook and Claudette Lewis. (Photo By Debbie Norrell)

It was a retirement party and award presentation like no other. His family was brought in under cover from New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida and New York. During the reception, his family was hidden in a room at the Carnegie. The surprise almost brought Miles to his knees.

The presentation included musical selections by Marvin Hamlisch, Joe Negri, Pure Gold and the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church Choir. One of the selections was straight from the studios of WQED, a special request from Elsie to George, “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” The Coveted Elsie Award was delivered to the stage by; you guessed it, Mr. McFeely the postman from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

Miles shared stories of his admiration for Elsie Hillman who he calls “the boss.” According to Miles and confirmed by Hillman on one of his first interviews for the CEO position at WQED Hillman met him in the lobby of the Duquesne Club and told him “don’t mess this up.” It seems he took her advice. Deborah L. Acklin (WQED President and CEO) says Miles changed the face of WQED and molded it into the valuable community asset it is today. George wrapped his arms around the community with one of his classic “hugs” when he arrived in 1994. He restored the spirit and the mission of WQED. Acklin went on to say Miles will be remembered most for his passion for showcasing the good in the community— to give voice to people and organizations that are working hard to make Pittsburgh a better place.

This was such an important event that each WQED employee was given a ticket to attend. Miles granddaughter, Taylor Brown read a wonderful story about her grandfather, she called him her hero. And under each seat, there was the ultimate favor, a chance to be George Miles if only for a minute. Each person received a picture of George Miles on a stick, combined with the whimsical headbands that were handed out when they walked in, everyone had things to remember George by.

The Elsie awards were conceived in 1996 as a way to honor people who have made a significant contribution to the community. Elsie and Henry Hillman said, “We can think of no other person more deserving of this honor. It is in this spirit that we bestow the final Elsie Award to George L. Miles Jr.” The hundreds of guests, enjoyed desserts and coffee and bid Miles a fond farewell.

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