Funeral today for former Mayor Sophie Masloff; scores pay tribute at city memorial



Once, when Frank Jones was a “very young” lawyer, he brushed aside a settlement offer and took a lawsuit to trial.

The case didn’t go his way, and the next time he found himself in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas jury assignment office, a clerk reminded him of his rookie mistake.

“You should have taken the settlement,” Sophie Masloff told Mr. Jones, who would become her campaign treasurer years later.

Mr. Jones was one of scores of people — some in suits, some in jeans and some in uniforms — to stop in the lobby of the City-County Building on Monday to pen a message in the notebooks lying on black-draped tables that sat in front of a photo of the former mayor and city councilwoman, who died Sunday morning at age 96.

“I didn’t know her personally, but I liked her work,” said Keisha Thomas of Penn Hills, who brought her teenage son and nephew to see the tribute. “I think she was one of the best mayors we had.”

 

Black-and-purple bunting hung from the portico of the building’s Grant Street entrance above the statue of Richard Caliguiri, whose death in office in 1988 made Mrs. Masloff, then the city council president, Pittsburgh’s first female mayor, an office she held through 1993.

Nancy Burns, a program manager in the city parks department’s office of special programs, said she has handled “shrouding” duties — including bunting steaming, flower orders and finding photos — for former Mayor Bob O’Connor, who died in 2006, as well as the three city police officers shot to death in Stanton Heights in 2009.

“It’s an honor to do so for such an important icon for the city of Pittsburgh,” she said, adding that Mrs. Masloff’s shrouding will remain in place all week. “She’s loved by many, many Pittsburghers. We want to make sure our tribute is appropriate.”

Mr. Jones said Mrs. Masloff, who grew up poor in the Hill District, never lost her common touch.

“Because of her humble beginnings, she never lost sight of that,” he said. “There were no airs about her.”

Mayor Bill Peduto stared silently at the photo of Mrs. Masloff for several seconds before writing his own tribute, which thanked her for “being a model” and a “trailblazer for generations to come.”

“Think about her time,” Mr. Peduto said. “Nobody said, ‘Oh, you could be the mayor.’ She was a woman, she was born in poverty. There was nobody she could follow.”

Mr. Peduto, who will deliver a eulogy at Mrs. Masloff’s funeral this morning, also cited her genuine “love of people” and of Pittsburgh.

“I thanked her for being a leader when Pittsburgh really needed one. We were still on our knees, the economic decline was still very real and the city needed a stable hand to get us through labor strife and the reforming of government,” Mr. Peduto said. “What I want to highlight is not necessarily the politics or the policies or anything else but, for the most part, a life well-lived. … She did it in her own special style and had fun. There’s a good way to have fun when you’re in politics. Sophie did it in a way that brought us along for the ride.”

Gloria Elbling-Gottlieb, 89, grew up in the same neighborhood as Mrs. Masloff but came to know her years later through NA’AMAT USA, a nonprofit Jewish women’s organization that works on quality-of-life issues for women, children and families in Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere.

“We were so proud of her. I used to tell her, ‘If you were running now, you’d be re-elected.’ ” Ms. Elbling-Gottlieb said. “You don’t need a formal education to be smart and be a leader.”

She recalled Mrs. Masloff’s penchant for shopping, particularly flea markets, and the pride she took in her appearance and independence.

“She marched in every parade. She always marched in high heels. She wanted to look young,” Ms. Elbling-Gottlieb said. “When she started to walk with a cane she was so embarrassed. I said, ‘You’re a member of the Duquesne Club, what do you care?’ ”

Mrs. Masloff wouldn’t have wanted a somber send-off, she added. “Her life is a celebration. … That’s what I tell my children. Have a band, don’t cry," Ms. Elbling-Gottlieb said. “I’m sure she would feel the same way. … No matter what, nobody gets out alive.”

Mrs. Masloff’s service is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Temple Sinai, 5505 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Rabbi Ronald Symons and Sara Stock Mayo, cantorial soloist, both of Temple Sinai, will be joined by Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation. It is open to the public.

In addition to Mayor Peduto, eulogies will be offered by John Seidman and Frederick Frank, both Mrs. Masloff’s “longtime friends and confidants,” Rabbi Symons said.

“We know that so many people are going to want to celebrate her life and contribution to the city,” Rabbi Symons said. “We have open doors, and we welcome them.”

 

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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