Obituary: Ora Lee Carroll / Activist dedicated to improving East End

Aug. 3, 1941 - Jan. 25, 2013

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The early 1990s were pretty rough in the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of East Liberty, Larimer and Homewood, with residents forced to cope with the woes that come from too many drugs and the growing presence of gangs.

Ora Lee Carroll, a founder of the East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp. community group, was determined to do something about that, helping lead anti-drug prayer gatherings and campaigning for programs meant to help the neighborhoods' youngest members from being trapped by the problems around them.

Her passionate devotion to that community was both inspired and impeded by family troubles, including drug addiction and domestic violence. She once shot her ex-husband and the future husband of one of her seven daughters, and pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse concerning a grandchild she had disciplined for theft. Her home was once set on fire and her car pelted with rocks another time, according to news reports.

"She really took her life in her hands a number of times in confronting the evil culture out there. And it was all for the children," said Bob Cranmer, a former Allegheny County commissioner who worked with Ms. Carroll on various projects and helped her take a run at political office.

"She was quite the lady," he said Sunday.

Ms. Carroll, 71, died Friday in Norfolk, Va., three years after being diagnosed with colon cancer, according to her daughter, Eloise Carroll. Her family had gathered there to say good-bye.

"She was a good woman. We all have a piece of her to carry on for life," Eloise Carroll said.

A native of the Tampa Bay area in Florida, Ms. Carroll grew up in the South but ended up in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s. After her marriage ended, the Larimer resident got involved in community concerns, becoming a Republican committeewoman, a 1993 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile said.

In the early 1990s, she helped organize a group of residents to brainstorm ideas to counter the escalating violence and drug traffic. The resulting proposals included starting block watches, turning a vacant school into a recreation center and implementing a curfew.

Drugs had hit her own family -- some of her daughters became addicted to crack -- and she argued that a supportive family and community were key in fighting the battle. "It's love and motivation one day at a time. So you see, I know. It hit my family. I didn't give up. I'm not going to give up, and neither should any of the other parents," she said in a 1991 profile in The Pittsburgh Press.

More than once, she was nominated for the Post-Gazette's Outstanding Citizen Award, cited for projects like the concerned citizens group's program to employ teens for summer lot cleanup and starting a day care and an after-school program.

Sometimes Ms. Carroll's outspoken ways rubbed people the wrong way. "She was a force to be reckoned with. She would speak her mind," said Mr. Cranmer, with a laugh.

And while her strong opinions weren't always welcome and the grand plans didn't always come to fruition, he said, he knew she genuinely was trying to change things for the better. "She tried to make a difference," he said.

Her faith was important to her and she believed in the power of prayer. Mr. Cranmer remembered starting to write a concession speech on election night in 1995 when, late in the evening, the numbers began going in his favor. Much later when he arrived home, he found a message on his answering machine: "My prayers were heard."

In addition to her daughter, Eloise, Ms. Carroll is survived by a sister, Eloise Matthews of Maryland; five more daughters, Fontia Bottoms of Homewood, Delphia Jackson of East Hills, Wanda Lee West of Norfolk, Theresa Carroll of Wilkinsburg and Wesley S. Carroll of Pittsburgh. One daughter, Hope Carroll, predeceased her, leaving a son, Wesley, to be raised by Ora Lee Carroll. She is also survived by five grandsons and 19 granddaughters.

The family said arrangements are being handled by the Metropolitan Funeral Home in Norfolk. A memorial service will be held in Pittsburgh at a later date, although details are not yet available.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018. Ann Rodgers contributed.


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