De-forestation: Haiti’s largest ecological disaster & a nonprofit’s mission for change

By Anthony Martinez Beven

The effect on the environment has been “tremendous,” Edward Rawson said of the de-forestation problem in Haiti. Rawson heads up Haiti Friends, a grass roots movement and nonprofit aimed at bringing global attention to this major environmental concern.

“The top soils are severely depleted, the country has vastly turned to desert. Mountains lay barren and hot with little soil to support much farming beyond farming corn in the rainy season. The top soil also washes into the rivers, canals, and the sea causing further destruction to the already fragile ecosystem,” Rawson said.

To address the problem, Haiti Friends provides education and seedlings to farmers. “Collectively, we are implementing practices of agroforestry; building rock walls to slow erosion; creating compost; improving the top soil; growing timber trees to hold the soil; and planting high-value crops between the trees,” Rawson noted.

So, when did it all begin? Dawson said the causes of de-forestation in Haiti are attributable to: The French exportation of timber throughout the 19th century to pay off a $90 million Franc indemnity to France; in the early 1900s, during the U.S. occupancy, lumber concessions were given to U.S. lumber corporations; natural disasters, in particular Hurricane Hazel in 1954; cutting down trees to use for charcoal; and environmentally unsound agricultural practices. 

Adding to the problem, Rawson said, is “heavy rains and no trees, which means desertification of Haiti’s mountains. Haiti’s national dependency on charcoal for cooking. And, rapid population growth, and increased competition.”

Haiti Friends, through art, expands awareness of the culture of the Haitian people, and their economic and ecological needs, while improving the environmental conditions in Haiti, according to the nonprofit’s website. 

“By sharing and selling Haitian artwork to people in the U.S., the Friends has shown that artwork is a meaningful tool that might be used to put a human face on the complex problems of a troubled country,” the site reads.

Rawson said Haiti Friends is also affiliated with the Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti. He said one of the root causes of poverty in the island country is “degraded land” and “harsh conditions” farmers live in. “Our program has been designed to directly improve the environmental conditions of the mountains while also improving economic conditions for farmers.” 

Regarding de-forestation in Haiti, Rawson said people can’t be informed enough. “So many people are unaware of how the lack of trees are making people suffer in Haiti. We can reverse this problem in our lifetime. If we can work together and plant 120+ million trees in Haiti, the country will be reforested,” he said.

To date, Haiti Friends has planted two million trees and is on target to plant another half a million in 2016. In addition, the nonprofit is gaining attention from national and international governments, and is creating strategic partnerships with other nonprofits like HAS.

“We can improve this country; save it from poverty; restore its ecosystem. Haiti is an amazing resilient place, and we can help restore it to the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ that it has always meant to be,” Rawson said. 

To donate to Haiti Friends, go Here.

Art Basel welcomes Haiti

I guess it really started months ago when it was hot and we had just taken our dog for a mid lunch walk. Haiti friends had a gallery in the point breeze section of Pittsburgh and it was a beautiful day when we got the email.

You have been accepted into the Aqua Art Miami fair during Art Basel week, the note read. It was a glorious moment - it meant that Haiti Friends could represent its many artists and varied collection on the global stage for the first time. As we looked further into it, it turns out that Haitian artwork is highly under represented during the fair and we were thrilled that its nearly one hundred thousand visitors would have the opportunity to engage with the artwork that we love so much.

So by the time I was on the plane traveling with photographer Karen Meyers whose pictures from a July 2015 trip to Haiti brought new life to our vision in terms of seeing people in their homes and environment with their families, we were half a year later and fully paid up to present at this very prestigious and funky fair.

Arriving at my Airbnb just a couple of blocks from Aqua Art Miami - a satellite show that took over a boutique hotel on Collins at 15th Street - I could see how South Florida would be a space of inspiration and negotiation as throngs of people arrived over the next couple of days to engage in art, which is a beautiful thing. When people put aside time and money for creative practice, the world and its people are better. From music to paintings to sculpture to installation to performance, this week would serve as a space to dedicate ourselves to color and line and energy - it's important - art is critical as a movement.

Haiti friends and Galerie Monnin took over room number 205 - its numbers adding up to lucky number seven - lucky that we could be there and thrilled to show our duo collection. On the right wall 12 square Frantz Zephirin 16 x 16 pieces hung in all of their glory - details such as slaves footsteps embracing the background. The Emilicar Simil pieces showcased his traditional silhouettes, reminded viewers of the queens its women portray, while Karen's photos in black-and-white and those in color stunned audiences who have never visited Haiti but who now had a better idea. The Joseph Valcin pieces showed community, life and birds,  and the Prefet Duffaut pieces allowed the cityscape of Jacmel to come to life.

On my own, I walked by the Collins Park outdoor sculpture garden featuring abstract pieces and large scale realism sculpture like a brown deer the size of a small house. With the Haiti Friends team I waltzed through the VIP Art Miami tent - snapping photos of Basquiat's scrawlings and a Banksy with a neon pink background. I had the pleasure of hanging around the city with my nephew who flew in from Pittsburgh to help out, and who hadn't experienced the mass art portal of Basel yet in his young life. We visited Pulse, and the Wynwood galleries and graffiti walls; we drove by the Design Miami tent's pink foam entrance and ate good food with a Southern flair.

And what I really liked was coming back to Aqua because its rooms created an insular feeling where you were encapsulated by the theme of the room or gallery, and of course you'd have to make eye contact with the attendant. And something about that in between moment of being awkward and having an opinion about what you're engaging in, comes thoughtful criticism. It's no wonder that Aqua brings in emerging galleries onto the Basel week scene as this was the golden opportunity to feel like you're floating while still being able to maintain your mission and direction.

The numbers are in and we believe that about 11,000 people walked through Aqua and a good number of those walked through our gallery. We met Pittsburgh famous folks who were in town for the magic; we met musicians, curators, and archivists. We met people who are new or seasoned art collectors. We met people who just want to party, and others who got a free ticket but ended up having a life-changing moment. By the close of the event we were able to talk about the contemporary artists we were representing as not only Haitian artists but as pop artists or figurative, illustrative - genres that are a part of the artistic conversation but not often enough when referring to Haitian art. The art was created in Haiti but it goes far beyond a stereotypical craft - it is outrageously interesting and deep art that makes an impact and has a story.

by Bee Schindler, Deputy Director - Haiti Friends

Melissa Sannon Talks Trees and Health

Dear Friends

It’s been three years since I embarked in this tree planting journey with the Haiti Timber Reintroduction Project, a project of Haiti Friends and Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Artibonite, Haiti. To mark my three year work anniversary with the program, today I want to write about one of the questions that I have often received when I tell people that I manage a reforestation program that is part of a hospital system. Why does a hospital have a reforestation program? I completely understand why some people struggle to piece it together because the link between trees, health, nutrition, and food security from the perspective of improving/saving lives and ensuring sustainable development in rural communities is extremely broad and narrow at the same time. It’s confusing, right

Collecting firewood to bring home is not easy job

Collecting firewood to bring home is not easy job

Well, I usually start with the general information about trees like how they help clean the air, make communities look attractive, provide shade, improve water quality, and prevent erosion. Next, I talk about another set of benefits that represents a major source of income for many remote communities. These benefits include fruits, food, firewood/charcoal, and timber that can be sold on local markets to facilitate the flowing of cash in the household. Then, I mention the prevalence of malnutrition in childhood in the Artibonite and how it relates to the decrease in agricultural production due to erosion because most of the mountains lack in tree cover. Providing health care isn’t sufficient enough to address malnutrition in communities with severe ecological damage. It is important to encourage people to plant trees, grow crops, and raise animals at the same time and on the same land. This practice is generally called agroforestry, and this falls into HTRIP’s mission to teach people about the art of farming with trees, so that they can restore degraded soil and produce nutritious crops.

Moreover, deforestation not only affects soil as it facilitates the erosion of topsoil and decreases agricultural production, it also limits people’s access to wood energy. For example, the key element to prepare food is energy, and the only energy source for cooking in rural Haitian communities is wood, so communities that suffer from extreme deforestation struggle to find enough wood for cooking. For example, rural Haitian women are usually the ones responsible to cook all the household food, and it takes them hours to go collect wood to cook one meal a day; extra time that could have been used for doing other lucrative activities. This also brings us to how deforestation prevents women from reaching out for other opportunities that don’t include household care.

HTRIP technicians, leaders, and I collecting data for the yam and passion fruit research project

HTRIP technicians, leaders, and I collecting data for the yam and passion fruit research project

Trees sustain life on earth and saving lives also means saving trees, so it is very disappointing to see that many adults still don’t quite understand why the health sector has to be bonded with the environmental sector especially when operating in vulnerable communities. I feel like it is somewhat the same thing for climate change, the good thing is that more people are talking about it now.

Melissa Sanon



Earth has Lost Half of its Trees to Humans

A new global census of all the trees on Earth estimates that more than 3 trillion call this "pale blue dot" home. But the total number of trees on the planet has dropped by almost 50% since human civilization began. 

The study is billed as the most accurate inventory of Earth's tree population to date, revealing that there are 3.04 trillion trees, which is roughly equivalent to 422 trees for every person on the planet. Researchers used satellite images, forest inventories and supercomputing technologies to calculate the number of trees on Earth. The new estimate found about 7.5 times more trees than were included in previous assessments, the scientists said. 


SEE ALSO: Nature's giants: Photos of the tallest trees on Earth


The researchers also used projected maps of current and historic forest cover, which were provided by the United Nations Environment Programme, to estimate how much tree loss has occurred over time. They found that 

the total number of trees on Earth has fallen by close to 46%

the total number of trees on Earth has fallen by close to 46% since civilization began. 


"Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth, yet we are only recently beginning to comprehend their global extent and distribution," said study lead author Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut. 

The tree census will help scientists better understand the distribution of animal and plant species in the world, the effects of climate change, and how trees shape their environments, the researchers said. 

In addition, the findings could help scientists study the role of trees in the global carbon cycle, the researchers said. Forests absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and then produce and release oxygen as a by-product. As such, trees play a key role in mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

"They store huge amounts of carbon, are essential for the cycling of nutrients, for water and air quality, and for countless human services," Crowther said. "Yet you ask people to estimate, within an order of magnitude, how many trees there are, and they don't know where to begin. I don't know what I would have guessed, but I was certainly surprised to find that we were talking about trillions."


The study also found that the areas with the highest density of trees are in the subarctic regions of Russia, Scandinavia and North America. The largest forested areas, however, are located in the tropics, which play host to 43% of the world's trees, the scientists said. 


Human activity is the main reason for the disappearance of trees

Human activity is the main reason for the disappearance of trees, primarily through deforestation, land-use changes and forest-management practices, the researchers said. These effects combined contribute to the loss of 15 billion trees worldwide every year, the scientists added. 


"We've nearly halved the number of trees on the planet, and we've seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result," Crowther said. "This study highlights how much more effort is needed if we are to restore healthy forests worldwide." 

Scientists undertook the study after a youth group called Plant for the Planet approached Crowther asking for a more accurate estimate of the world's trees than what was available at the time. The previous estimate of 400 billion trees didn't include forest inventories from the ground, the researchers said, but the new study does incorporate that information. 

The findings were published online Sept. 2 in the journal Nature.


2015 World Forestry Conference ‘’Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future’’

Day 1/Blog 1

by Melissa Sanon who is currently in South Africa representing Haiti Timber Reintroduction Program, a reforestation project in the Department of the Artibonite in Haiti.

The first day of the XIV World Forestry Congress at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa saw the gathering of hundreds of people from the global forestry community. The opening ceremony included two splendid cultural performances; one by the local fire-fighters marching and singing a traditional African song, and another song by a trio of African artists.

he next part of the programme was the launching of the Global Forests Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015 and the High Level Dialogue on the importance of forests in the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This first plenary session had quite a long list of speakers including Tom Tidwell, Chief of US Forest Service, and José Graziano Da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations. For instance, some of the speakers had identified some key elements that can help tackle forest-related problems as well as reported positive messages about countries that have developed effective strategies and policies to address forest-related issues. Others did also point out the great need for investment, technology and the creation of micro-enterprise for forest-related products.

The minister of Congo, who has more than 23 years of experience in global forestry, made a very interesting and truthful remark regarding the lack of interest of certain governments in allocating funds for projects related to the protection of natural parks, forests, and the biodiversity as well as regulating products from the flora and fauna. This brought me back to Haiti where the Ministry of Environment is extremely weak in terms of addressing the biggest ecological problem of the country, which is deforestation. How can we fight poverty if there is not enough funding to finance projects related to forestry and agriculture? If we really want to help eradicate poverty in Haiti which is strongly linked to deforestation and malnutrition, I think the starting point is in reforesting/restoring the mountains to reduce the risks of soil erosion, so that farmers can produce more food to eat and sell and by that we may as well address Climate Change which is a global concern nowadays.

As the week goes by, I look forward to keep you posted on the highlights of each day of the conference and also explore more on the topic of public and private investment in forestry.


Melissa Sanon

HAITI FRIENDS and Partners - YALE Visit with Ago Tifa - Fully Integrated Farming Systems

An Amazing Dinner at Papaye in Petionville

Reminiscing on the dinner we had at Papaye in Petionville a few months ago. This place is so classy. so cozy, and the food is perfection. I can't wait to go back. Maybe in June.... 

Agroforestry Program Sets to Reverse the World’s Largest Ecological Disaster

Planting trees in Haiti means SURVIVAL and an INCREASED QUALITY OF LIFE.

By: Haiti Friends and J/P Haitian Relief Organization  

Photos by Karen Meyers Photography

In an effort to change the landscape of Haiti through a highly successful agroforestry program that is reversing the world’s largest ecological disaster, the two-millionth tree was planted in Haiti this season as Haiti Friends’ Haiti Timber Re-Introduction Program (HTRIP) team transfers 400,000 seedlings into the ground during the summer planting season. 

“It is my dream to reverse the effects of one of the world’s largest ecological disasters and reforest Haiti in my lifetime,” said Edward Rawson, Haiti Friends Executive Director. “We have developed a model for reforestation that will not only plants trees, but also incorporate higher value crops to increase food security for the entire country.” In response to a 98 percent deforestation rate, Haiti Friends launched HTRIP in 2006 to tackle Haiti’s largest ecological problem.

 J/P Haitian Relief Organization, founded in 2010, works mainly in dense, urban areas in Port-Au-Prince, dedicated its efforts to relocating displaced people after the earthquake, and now focuses on community and economic development of marginalized people. J/P HRO has taken a recent and keen interest in reforestation and agroforestry, and will plant 50,000 trees in a separate initiative in the Port-au-Prince area by the fall of 2015. This effort has been made possible through a partnership between J/P HRO, the Swedish Postcode Lottery Fund, and the Clinton Foundation, called Build Back Better and Greener.

As a part of HTRIP’s effort, and spearheaded by J/PHRO’s Director of Programs and Co-Founder of HTRIP, Dr. Starry Sprenkle, J/P HRO contributed 3,000 trees to a monumental planting on the 30th of June.

 Trees planted, and water-catchments and rock walls built, reduce run-off of rich topsoil. As the trees mature, crops planted between the towering trunks allow families to farm on land that was once eroded.

Nitrogen fixing varietals help to add oxygen to the air, while timber varietals can bring upwards of $1,000 to families who plan to steward their trees for 7-10 years before cutting them down and selling the wood.

The HTRIP program goes beyond putting trees in the ground; it cultivates a paradigm shift in the way Haitian farmers approach farming their land.

“Being an HTRIP's leader makes me more environmentally responsible. Now, I am very engaged in planting trees, and raising awareness about the negative effects of deforestation in the mountains,” said Joseph Josue, HTRIP leader in the Mathurin, Lachapelle District. While planting its 2-millionth tree is a feat, it’s a drop in the bucket.

“The Haiti Timber Reintroduction project is not only about planting two million trees,” said HTRIP Manager Melissa Sanon. “It’s a project that transforms lives, communities, and the environment.” She says that “HTRIP has taught more than 6,000 people about how to take better care of their environment, and that’s for me, very powerful.”

To date, 63 communities - many of which are small and isolated - in the Artibonite Department of Central Haiti have been engaged, and more than 6,000 participants have graduated HTRIP’s rigorous 10-month education program, led by experienced agriculture technicians. The communities work together as a group or “konbit”, moving from farm to farm, and sharing an HTRIP-provided meal for the day, encouraging good work, while motivating neighbors to help one another.

The educational component of HTRIP directly transfers classroom knowledge to the field. “In my community we used to do slash burn agriculture, and this is one of the reasons why our soil is so degraded,” said Pharissaint Pharius, HTRIP leader in the Savonette, Verettes District. “HTRIP has been teaching us about the negative effects of this method, so now we don’t do it anymore [and instead,] to increase the fertility of our soil, we make traditional compost with animal manure and leaves.”

HTRIP is funded by foundations and individuals, including leaders in the US forestry industry. Haiti Friends and J/P HRO are both 501(c)(3) non profit organizations. Haiti Friends expands awareness of the culture and art of the Haitian people and of their need for health services, economic development, while improving environmental conditions in Haiti.  J/P HRO mission is to save lives and build sustainable programs with the Haitian people quickly and effectively.

Elsie Hillman, GOP activist and philanthropist, dies at 89

Elsie Hillman, GOP activist and philanthropist, dies at 89

By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Elsie Hilliard Hillman, a philanthropist and political activist whose lifetime of civic devotion made her a beloved figure in Western Pennsylvania and beyond, died early today at UPMC Shadyside. She was 89.

The wife of billionaire industrialist Henry Hillman, whom she married in 1945, she rose from a volunteer in the 14th Ward in Squirrel Hill to the sanctum of Republican national decision-makers, always with the purpose of helping people.

Once described as "the Grand Duchess of the Pennsylvania Republican Party," Mrs. Hillman approached politics from the perspective of promoting social causes. As chairwoman of the state GOP and a member of the Republican National Committee from 1978 to 1996, she was instrumental in the election of centrist politicians on the local, state and national level.

Former Republican governors William Scranton, Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge, senators John Heinz and Arlen Specter, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and President George H.W. Bush were among the many who counted on her counsel and support before and after they were elected.

Mr. Bush, whom Mrs. Hillman helped get elected in 1988, described Mrs. Hillman to the Post-Gazette as “ a wonderful gal” and praised her for being “amazingly active in politics and her community” and for being “always concerned about making a contribution.”

Mr. Bush’s wife, Barbara, once described Mrs. Hillman as ''a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Auntie Mame.’’

“Elsie Hillman, our dear friend, broke the mold,” Mr. Bush said. “She was full of wisdom, full of energy, and full of humor. She was a tireless political activist, and a wonderful, caring human being. I was blessed to have her on my side. Barbara and I loved her.”

“Elsie was happiest when surrounded by her family,” said husband Henry Hillman. “Every person she ever met, she made to feel as though they were her best friend and that she would do anything for them, but her family always came first in her heart.”

Yet her circle of influence was not limited to Republicans. She counted longtime Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster and Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, whom she recognized for his “vision and leadership,” as close friends. Democratic Mayor Joseph Barr, who served from 1959 to 1970, once told Mr. Foerster, “Anytime you need help of any kind, you go see Elsie.”

With unbridled enthusiasm and good humor, Mrs. Hillman balanced her undisputed power and wealth with touches of common life. She drove herself around in cars ordinary except for the elephant hood ornament. When giving tens of thousands of dollars to state candidates, she listed her occupation as ''housewife.’’ The silver with which she occasionally served large numbers of guests was bought second-hand at a government auction.

She connected the black community to chief executive officers of major corporations and personally delivered food baskets to dying AIDS victims and stayed to eat with them. She established the Republican Future Fund to promote centrist policies and candidates and was a staunch supporter of abortion rights -- a position that frequently caused friction in the party.

In 2005, the Hillmans donated $20 million to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the UPMC Cancer Centers.

Former Gov. Tom Corbett, who was among 300 people attending a May 2012 salute to Mrs. Hillman at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, said she “created a generation of leaders ... with a clear set of goals and the capacity to not only get along with very different people but to show those people how to get along with each other. That's politics at its purest."

Terry Miller, director of the university's Institute of Politics, hailed Mrs. Hillman for the time, effort, money and influence she invested in people and causes -- including rights for women, minorities and gays -- often when the stands were not popular.

But they were more than stands. They were movements that Mrs. Hillman had a hand in setting in motion.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by four children -- Lea Simonds, Audrey Fisher, Henry Hillman Jr., and Bill Hillman -- nine grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be private and for the immediate family only. A community memorial service to celebrate her life is being planned for Sept. 19 at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.

Dan Majors: and 412-263-1456.



By Salena Zito

Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, 12:45 p.m.
Updated 54 minutes ago


Philanthropist Elsie Hillman, a Republican matriarch who rubbed shoulders with presidents and politicos but could just as easily befriend doormen and waiters, died Tuesday in Pittsburgh. 

At the height of her involvement in Pennsylvania politics, she had “the unique ability to talk to the president of the United States in the morning and to talk to the parking lot attendant in the afternoon and convince both of them she's their best friend,” said Allegheny County GOP committee chairman Jim Roddey, a former county executive whose campaign she supported. 

A parking lot attendant, Roddey recalled, once told Mrs. Hillman, “‘I really appreciate your talking to me. After all, I'm only a parking lot attendant.' And she said, ‘Oh, no. You are an automotive placement engineer.'” 

Mrs. Hillman, the wife of industrialist Henry Hillman of Squirrel Hill, died of heart failure at UPMC Shadyside. She was 89. 

“Elsie was happiest when surrounded by her family,” said her husband. “Every person she ever met, she made to feel as though they were her best friend and that she would do anything for them, but her family always came first in her heart.” 

The family plans a private funeral, and a community memorial service on Sept. 19 at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside. 

Former President George H.W. Bush, whom Mrs. Hillman supported, said the country lost “one of the brightest points of light and finest political activists with the passing of our dear and cherished friend. Wherever she went, whatever she did, Elsie was a leader, a force of nature around whom good and worthwhile things were always happening. 

“She had the biggest, most caring heart,” Bush said. “She seemed to know everyone. And she had respect and admiration even from those with whom she did not always agree on issues.” 

The Hillmans celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on May 12 at the Pittsburgh Golf Club. He attended but she was hospitalized and spoke by closed-circuit TV, guests said. Seated in a wingback chair, with flowers next to her, she dressed up her blue silk outfit with jewelry and only a gauze bandage on her wrist suggested she was in a hospital room. 

“After her remarks, she told everyone to go to the bar, enjoy the buffet and spend Henry's money wildly,” one guest recalled. 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Mrs. Hillman was “a pioneer who spent a lifetime changing things for the better. She was also gracious and down-to-earth, and did all she could to make Pittsburgh a better place for all. Thousands in our city and far beyond were touched forever by her goodness.” 

Mrs. Hillman graduated from the Ellis School, the Ethel Walker School and studied voice and piano at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. She demonstrated her free spirit at Ellis by riding around the school with her boyfriend on a motorcycle, according to “Never a Spectator: The Political Life of Elsie Hillman,” a book by Kathy McCauley. 

She fell in love with Hillman, a naval pilot, and married him in 1945 when she was just 19. 

Mrs. Hillman began her decades of community service as a teenager searching the skies for aircraft over Pittsburgh during World War II. She later cleaned instruments for surgery, sold War Bonds and knitted socks for soldiers. 

She joined the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. That began her streak of supporting moderate Republicans such as Bush, Sens. John Heinz and Hugh Scott, and Govs. Bill Scranton, Richard Thornburgh and Tom Ridge. 

“None of us would have achieved what we have politically without the guidance and leadership of Elsie Hillman. Elsie was always there for us, and always asking how she could help,” said Ridge, who attended a lunch with the Hillmans, and former Govs. Dick Thornburgh and Mark Schweiker during the Christmas holidays last year. 

“When I think of Elsie, I'll always think of her generous spirit and her warm heart,” Ridge said, “The Hillmans' philanthropy in Pittsburgh, and beyond, is renowned. Quite simply, Elsie Hillman was an incredible human being.” 

Mrs. Hillman was a Republican national committeewoman from 1975 to 1996 but she became disenchanted when the party's right wing became more dominant. She encouraged women and minorities to run for political office. 

With her husband, she gave millions of dollars to charity to support causes such as the Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC. She co-chaired the Save Our Summers campaign in 2004 when budget cutbacks forced the City of Pittsburgh to close swimming pools and recreation centers. 

“She went to civic leaders and foundations and asked everyone to create a fund and the will to keep those pools and facilities open so children would have a safe place to go,” said Kathy Buechel, senior lecturer and director of the Philanthropy Forum at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. 

She helped launch the Neighbor Aid campaign to assist families devastated by the Great Recession of 2008. 

Roddey revealed another of Mrs. Hillman's secrets. Although Forbes magazine once estimated her husband's wealth at $2.3 billion, she almost exclusively wore costume jewelry. 

“Dearie, people think that's an emerald,'” he said she once told him. “‘I'm not going to waste my money on expensive jewelry. I have more important things to do with my money.'” 

In addition to her husband, survivors include daughters Juliet Lea Simonds and Audrey Hillman Fisher; sons Henry Lea Hillman, Jr. and William Talbott Hillman; nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. 

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at Staff writer Bill Zlatos contributed.

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