Obituary: William Russell Blakey / Community advocate was a fixture of the Hill District
Feb. 20, 1928 - June 24, 2014
June 28, 2014 11:57 PM
Debbie Norrell/New Pittsburgh Courier
William Russell Blakey served as director of operations at Hill House for 60 years.
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After his body is cremated this week, William "Bill" Blakey's ashes will be sprinkled over the Hill District.
That's only fitting because Mr. Blakey was born and raised in that city neighborhood and worked at the Hill House Association and its predecessor organization as director of operations for six decades.
"He loved the Hill and he absolutely loved the Hill House," said Mr. Blakey's son, Bruce Blakey of Penn Hills.
Mr. Blakey of Wilkinsburg died Tuesday, having been ill since suffering a massive stroke in April, his son said. He was 86.
"There's just a sad pall over the Hill House right now," said Cheryl Hall-Russell, president and chief executive of the community center on Centre Avenue that provides child care, senior services, job training and youth programs.
When she relocated from Indianapolis to run the Hill House, Ms. Hall-Russell said Mr. Blakey became "sort of my protector."
"He knew where everything was in every building and was my official greeter. He told me where all the bodies were buried and I mean that in a positive way."
While driving Ms. Hall-Russell to appointments Downtown, Mr. Blakey "would talk to me about life," she said.
Mr. Blakey was one of nine siblings whose mother died when he was 6 years old, his son said.
Mr. Blakey's father was a railroad car porter for the Pullman Co. who was away much of the time for work so the children were placed in orphanages until their father remarried.
Mr. Blakey attended the now-closed Schenley High School in Oakland.
In the early 1950s, he went to work for the SoHo Community House, which in 1964 merged with a couple of other community groups to become Hill House.
After he was married and raising two boys, Mr. Blakey worked at night on a garbage truck to help supplement his wages from Hill House, his son said.
Because he grew up on the Hill, and because of his long tenure at Hill House, Mr. Blakey became a neighborhood fixture who was known for assisting people outside of his workplace and sharing his knowledge of the community's history.
"He was a teacher," Ms. Hall-Russell said.
Mr. Blakey retired two years ago but was adamant about staying in shape by riding a stationary bike daily, helping friends and family with projects, and making repairs on his house, his son said.
Last September, he received the Thelma Lovette Community Service award at the Hill of Hope Gala for his years of dedication to the Hill District.
"But he didn't like a lot of hoopla or acknowledgement," his son said. "He was one of the lucky ones who loved what he did. The Hill House gave him a real sense of purpose."
In addition to his son, survivors include another son, William James Blakey of San Diego, Calif.; his longtime companion, C. Diana Tyler; two stepchildren, Scooter and Sweetie Tyler; two brothers, Raymond and Norman Blakey; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held 4-8 p.m. Monday at White Memorial Chapel, 7204 Thomas Blvd., Point Breeze. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Ave., Hill District, followed by a reception at Hosanna House, 807 Wallace Ave., Wilkinsburg.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.
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