Former Mayor Sophie Masloff Dies At 96
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) –Pittsburgh’s first female mayor passed away Sunday morning.
According to a statement from a family spokesman, Sophie Masloff died at the Center for Compassionate Care in Mt. Lebanon at 8:55 a.m. Sunday. She was 96.
“Mayor Masloff is survived by her daughter Sue (Nicholas) Busia, her granddaughter Jennifer Busia, her grandson Michael (Krystan) Busia, her great-granddaughter Scarlett Busia and her niece Elayne (Harold) Harris,” the statement said.
Masloff was sworn in as the city’s 56th mayor on May 6, 1988, following the death of Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri. She was 70 years old at the time.
“I was truly frightened, really frightened,” Masloff said.
Months earlier, Caliguiri had asked Masloff to run for City Council president, ensuring that she’d be in line to succeed him. However, she had no idea how sick the mayor was at that time.
Years later, she remembered the heartbreaking call from the city solicitor.
“He said, ‘You better get yourself ready. Dick Caliguiri died and you are going to be sworn in at 9 o’clock.’ It probably was the lowest point in my whole life,” Masloff said.
But, the highest calling of her career had come and it was an improbable story,
Sophie Friedman grew up in poverty in the Hill District and went to the old Fifth Avenue High School
Her look — and her sound — were original. And she loved to poke fun of herself as much as anyone.
“I’m tired of this city, ’cause the council’s so gritty,” she sang. “I ain’t gonna go (Sophie) dahntahn.”
Then, she worked nearly four decades in local government. She was in her late 50s before she was first elected to City Council, where she served 12 years. She also became the city’s first female council president.
As mayor, she quickly launched a city-wide sprucing up plan and proved to be a charming campaigner as she ran for and won her own full term.
Her look and her sound were original and she loved to poke fun at herself as much as anyone. Most importantly, she was a mayor focused on the future.
In fact, her idea for PNC Park was well ahead of its time.
“Well, the public went bananas. Everybody thought that was the worst thing they ever heard. So, I had to withdraw it. But, I knew then that it had to come and I knew that it was a great thing for the city,” Masloff said.
Eight years later, under her successor Tom Murphy, they broke ground on PNC Park.
In the end, Masloff was what she was – a down-to-Earth, Jewish grandmother mingling with presidents and popes. Yet, she was always Pittsburgh to the core.
“I did the job I was supposed to do. I did the job I was elected to do. I don’t deserve a medal for it, I did what I was supposed to do. I never lost sight of the fact that it was an incredible honor to be the first woman mayor and whatever I did and whatever I’m remembered for, I’m flattered, truly,” Masloff said.
She was such an indelible character, decades after leaving office, she continued to be spoofed at the annual “Off the Record” show — in which local journalists and actors lampoon the city’s movers and shakers.
She was in the audience without fail, every year. But in 2013, they brought the then-95-year-old mayor herself onstage for a tribute. It would be her final public appearance.
“Whatever I did, whatever I’m remembered for, I’m flattered, truly,” she said.
Former Pittsburgh Mayors Remember Masloff:
Sen. Bob Casey released a statement about Masloff’s passing Sunday afternoon:
“My family and families across our Commonwealth join the people of Pittsburgh in expressing our sadness regarding the passing of Sophie Masloff. She was beloved and respected by citizens as well as public officials in southwestern Pennsylvania. Sophie was a visionary and provided a strong foundation of leadership which spearheaded the growth and success that we see today in the City of Pittsburgh. She was also a trailblazer as the first woman to lead Pittsburgh. I will continue to keep her family and friends in my thoughts and prayers during this time.”
Gov. Tom Corbett also released a statement following Masloff’s passing:
“Sophie Masloff was the quintessential daughter of Pittsburgh: an outspoken, direct and honest character who embraced her work with a sense of service and a spark of joy. This daughter of immigrants helped to shape the city’s culture and persona, with a voice and flair that were unmistakably Sophie and essentially Pittsburgh.
“For a turbulent decade of economic and social change, she was exactly the right leader for the time, offering a steady hand and a forward-looking vision.
“It was Sophie who first envisioned what became PNC Park, and it was Sophie who also led the way in promoting equality of opportunity, both by word and by her own example as both the city’s first female and first Jewish chief executive.
“Susan and I mourn her passing and join all of Pennsylvania in offering thanks for the life and leadership of Sophie Masloff.”
Former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also released a statement Sunday, saying:
Heartbreaking news this morning as we say goodbye to a friend and legend, Mayor Sophie Masloff. We have lost a phenomenal woman and leader, a Pittsburgher in every sense of the word. On a personal note, she was always there for me. I was blessed to have spent many hours in the comfort of her living room getting her advice and perspective. Thanks for always being there for me, our city, and, more importantly, thanks for making Pittsburgh a better place, Mayor. Rest in peace.
Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce A. Kraus also released a statement, saying:
“Today, I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Mayor Sophie Masloff. Sophie was truly one in a million, and this is a huge loss for the City of Pittsburgh and all whose lives were touched by her. I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the Masloff family in their time of loss. May her memory and legacy never be forgotten.”
The funeral for Masloff will be held at Temple Sinai at 5505 Forbes Avenue on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
The public is welcome at the service. However, officials are asking the public be seated by 10:45 a.m.
The burial will be kept private.
A family spokesperson issued a statement Sunday morning:
“In lieu of flowers, Mayor Masloff’s family asks that contributions be made to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Reading Center of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, c/o Carnegie Library, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15213, where Mayor Masloff served as a Member of the Board, or a charity of the individual’s choice.”
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