Delphina Bray Briscoe was a powerful force for change in Pittsburgh Public Schools and around the city for more than 50 years.
The longtime educator and community figure died Saturday at age 80 after a battle with cancer.
She was born in Pittsburgh and married her high school sweetheart, William, on July 15, 1956, after falling in love at first sight.
Solanda Peek of Highland Park described her mother as "incredibly smart and so detailed," necessary qualities for a woman who gave her time and energy to numerous organizations and countless children during her life.
Ms. Briscoe began her long career in education in 1959 as an elementary school teacher. She served as principal at Milliones Middle School from 1984 to 1997. From 2002 to 2004, she was executive director of elementary schools for Pittsburgh Public Schools. She served as regional assistant superintendent for the North/Central region, and a consultant for the district.
"We will all remember how much she cared about students," Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane said. "She devoted her life to ensuring children had an excellent, comprehensive education."
Ms. Briscoe earned a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University in 1955 and a master's in 1963. She earned a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in 1975.
While a student at Duquesne, she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, an involvement she continued throughout her life. She was a founding member and president of the Ivy Charitable Endowment of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit started by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha to provide support to programs in the Pittsburgh African-American community.
In 1997, she was elected as the first woman and first African-American president of Gateway to the Arts, a program that funds art programs in Pittsburgh schools.
During Ms. Briscoe's time as principal, Milliones became the first middle school in the city to require uniforms, a controversial move at the time, her daughter said. Ms. Briscoe believed students focused too much on clothes and uniforms would bring attention back to academics and equalize the playing field for students who couldn't afford the latest fashions.
Perhaps less visible was her war on cafeteria french fries, which she battled to eliminate in favor of something more nutritious.
Despite Ms. Briscoe's busy schedule, Ms. Peek said her mother made time for people.
"She always had more than enough time to help someone out, to make a call, or help someone get a job," Ms. Peek said.
Ms. Briscoe was a lifelong member of Ebenezer Baptist Church. She served as deaconess, director of the men's choir and president of the Ebenezer Development Corp., charged with building a high-rise for senior citizens. She was an accomplished pianist and organist and was instrumental in building a memorial for the two firefighters killed in a 2004 fire that destroyed the Hill District church.
She has been honored by the Girl Scouts of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Duquesne University, the Pittsburgh mayor's office and many other groups.
"She was a mentor to so many people," her daughter said. "There are lots of principals who are good at what they do today because they were mentored under her. So many people tell me, 'They don't make principals like your mom anymore.' "
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Briscoe is survived by her husband, William, of East Hills; siblings Beverly Crawford of the South Side, Patricia Mathews of Dayton, Ohio, Diana Peagler of Detroit and Anderson Bray and Jacquelie Grant of Maryland.
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Ave. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.
Lauren Lindstrom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1964.