As long as there has been a Hill House Association, there has been Bill Blakey. He knew its first president, Jim Henry, when he was still a child, and worked with him throughout his tenure and for a decade afterward. If something needed to be done, if someone needed help, Blakey took care of it—not just at the Hill House, but also throughout the community.
Blakey passed away June 24. He was 86.
“Bill was a terrific person. He was generous. He’d give people money, but he was no fool,” said Alma Speed Fox. “And if he decided he was your friend—he was your friend.”
And, if you were his friend, he’d take you to lunch—usually at Ritter’s Diner.
Fox recalled having problems fixing up the Freedom Unlimited building that bears her name and also houses the NAACP Pittsburgh unit. Blakey heard about it and went there to help.
“I was getting scammed by contractors, plumbers (and) carpenters, because I didn’t know what they were talking about doing. Bill did, and he handled them for me,” she said. “Then a few years later while I was away on vacation, he made that Freedom Unlimited sign, and he and Gwen Elliot put it up along with a banner saying the ‘Alma Speed Fox Building.’ And there it was when I got back.”
Fox said part of his charm was that he knew everyone and everything going on in the Hill District. She said he loved that building almost as much as her because when he was young, his mother took him to dances there on the third floor. But it was his dedication to the Hill House and to serving others for which he’ll be remembered.
“He was the driving force, the soul of the Hill House,” she said. “It’s a shame because it just isn’t the same without him. He was part of that warm feeling you used to get, that invitation to everyone in the Hill. There was nothing he loved more than the Hill House. It was sad that he had to retire. He should have been there until they carried him out.”
Black Political Empowerment Project founder Tim Stevens called Blakey “part of the culture of the Hill District.”
“A sweetheart of a guy, and a stalwart,” said Stevens. “He was a wonderful warm presence that will be missed.”
Evan Frazier, who served as Hill House CEO for six years following Henry’s death, called Blakey “amazing.”
One amazing thing about Blakey, Frazier said, was his knowledge of everyone in the Hill.
“I learned more about by my grandfather, my father’s side of the family, from him than I did from my family.”
But it was his generous service to people that stood out, Frazier said.
“He did so much for the community, and he was a friend—someone we all relied on,” he said. “He was a blessing to the community. He took time to help individuals and their families—that’s the kind of guy he was—service at every level. It’s a tremendous loss, but he certainly left his mark and we’re all better for having known him.”
Sonya Toler, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety, said Blakey was unique.
“Mr. Blakey was a special man. His heart was so big. He just gave, and gave, and gave. He was always looking for opportunities to help people, and the amazing thing was he never wanted an ounce of recognition for it,” she said. “When I got married a long time ago, that man handled my reception—at the Hill House. He paid for everything. They don’t make many men like Bill Blakey anymore.”
He is survived by sons, Bruce Dean Blakey and William James Blakey of San Diego, Calif.
ARRANGEMENTS FOR BILL BLAKEY:
The funeral service for Mr. Bill Blakey will be held at 11:00 am on Tuesday, July 1 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Avenue in the Hill District. There will be a repast immediately following the funeral at Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg, 807 Wallace Avenue.
As a reminder, the family will receive visitors on Monday, June 30th from 4:00-8:00 pm at White Memorial Chapel, 7204 Thomas Blvd. in Point Breeze (http://www.whitememorialchapel.com/).
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