His passion and dedication to unlocking the power of education for disadvantaged minority students seeking higher education, along with his overall commitment to helping the community and the youth within it, are just a few of the reasons why Sylvester Pace will be missed, but never forgotten. Pace, 58, of Penn Hills, died June 8 after a reported battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Pace, a beacon in the community, spent more than 10 years as president and CEO of NEED, the oldest community-based, nonprofit, minority higher education program in Pennsylvania, which provides pathways for youth looking to further their education in college.
Ann Hoover, president of NEED’s board of directors and of Bayer MaterialScience, released a statement saying, “It’s a sad day for not only those of us at NEED who knew and love Sylvester, but also for all of Pittsburgh and the community that he spent so much of his life fighting for. He believed so strongly in the mission of NEED. The entire city of Pittsburgh has lost a great man, a selfless advocate and a devoted husband and father. We’ll miss him dearly at NEED.” She also said that a plan of transition will be addressed once the community, his family, friends and NEED staff have had time to mourn his passing and pay tribute to his legacy.
Pace grew up in the Hill District and graduated from Schenley High School. He later received his undergraduate degree from Cheyney University, and a master’s degree in counseling education and a certificate in marketing from the University of Pittsburgh. He was also a doctoral candidate at Duquesne University’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program for Educational Leaders.
Before dedicating his time to NEED, Pace spent 17 years with Pressley Ridge School as an advocate for troubled youth, followed by The Abraxas Youth & Family Services, then time as a pharmaceutical salesman.
But it was his commitment to education that led him to NEED. Herman Reid Jr., former executive director of NEED, said he identified Pace as his successor because of his insight and commitment to the education of youth and his will to take the organization to new heights.
“I always told him (Pace) ‘that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” Reid said. “His death came as a shock, but his work had a lasting impact and he will be sorely missed by the community and the organization.”
Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and friend, said, “We will sorely miss our dear friend, Sylvester. Our community and the future of our children have been blessed by his dedication and visionary leadership. Our prayers are with his family and loved ones.”
Even with his responsibilities to his career, Pace found time to serve on numerous boards and committees, such as the Cheyney Foundation, the Center for Family Excellence, the Mel Blount Youth Home, the Absalom Jones Foundation, and the advisory board of the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise (PACE), just to name a few. Pace also earned several honors, including being named one of the 50 most influential men in Pittsburgh, a lifetime achievement award, several leadership and community service awards, and one of the New Pittsburgh Courier’s 2008 50 Men of Excellence award.
Lucille Dabney, executive director of PACE said, “He was one of God’s special people and such a leader. We always talk about what needs to be done; he was one of those people who did it. It is going to be a great loss.” Dabney also added that Pace was nicknamed Godfather because he was a perfect advisory board member and was always generous in helping to make needed connections and told of how when she moved here seven years ago, it was Pace who first reached out to welcome her.
Like Dabney, TiAnda Blount, wife of Mel Blount and executive vice president of the Mel Blount Youth Home, said Pace’s passing will be a loss. “He was an instrumental part of the Mel Blount Youth Home program” and was very compassionate about working with young people as a whole and it showed through his work with NEED.
Hall of Famer Mel Blount, of the Mel Blount Youth Home and former Pittsburgh Steeler, said “He is a great loss to all of us, especially in the community and here at the youth home. He is just a great guy and we will miss him dearly.”
Pace is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Rhonda, and his two daughters, Rachel and Stephanie. Funeral arrangements will be handled by House of Law Inc., in Penn Hills. The viewing was Wednesday, June 13 from 12-8 p.m. at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, 271 Paulson Ave., East Liberty, and the funeral service will be held Thursday, June 14 at 11 a.m., also at Mt. Ararat. In lieu of flowers, it has been requested that donations be made to the NEED scholarship fund in memory of Sylvester.