Written by The New Pittsburgh Courier
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ORA LEE CARROLL
It didn’t matter to Ora Lee Carroll if you were a staunch conservative like former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, or a dedicated progressive like state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville. If you could bring resources to her neighborhood to battle drugs and violence, or assist with housing and business development, you got her calls.
And you got them until you promised to do something, and after that, if the result was even the slightest bit different from what she wanted; congressman, mayor, councilman, she would call you out publicly if she thought you had slighted her community. She did not pull her punches.
Carroll who founded East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp. and created the original comprehensive Larimer Plan for community development passed away surrounded by family in Norfolk, Va., Jan. 25, after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 71.
“She gave new meaning to the term ‘in your face advocacy. She never needed a microphone,” said Ferlo. “People didn’t always understand her, but she was a grass-roots advocate, and I always respected the way she extended herself personally, taking in single-parent kids, mentoring. She always made an effort to connect with young people. So it’s a great loss.”
Originally from Florida, Carroll moved to Pittsburgh in the late 1960s, and by the mid-1970s, when Ferlo met her, she was already advocating for youth programming and improved housing throughout Pittsburgh’s East End.
The most ambitious part of her original Larimer plan centered on renovating the old Larimer Avenue School into a medical center and rehabilitating the surrounding homes into senior housing. Though funds for architectural designs and street plans were allocated, as happened with many of her big plans, development money was never committed.
“It was sad to see her struggle over the last few years, particularly for me because I just recently lost a sister to cancer,” said Ferlo. “But she learned to give up a measure of control and accepted the leadership of others, and now we have the Larimer Consensus Group that she helped form, and a new comprehensive Larimer Plan. “
Malik Bankston, executive director of the Kingsley Association, said while there were times when she was her own worst enemy, she was committed to her community.