PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – A Pennsylvania philanthropist and political activist who helped propel moderate Republicans to state and national offices has died. Elsie Hillman was 89.

She was a Republican activist, a philanthropist who’s giving matched anyone’s, but most of all she was a Pittsburgher, through and through, who never lost the common touch.

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“No matter who you were, rich or poor, party affiliation, none of that really mattered. Elsie was here to help people,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Help people she did. Whether it was large projects that bore the name of her and her husband, Henry, like the technology center they funded along with Bill Gates at Carnegie Mellon University or the Hillman Cancer Center in Oakland, which is one of the premiere cancer treatment institutes in the country.

“She was a visionary, she was extremely bright, she was determine, and she was clearly dedicated to the patients,” said Dr. Stanley Marks, of the Hillman Cancer Center

Or whether it was building ice rink PPG Plaza or funding the pools during the 2004 Pittsburgh city budget crisis that would have drained them during the long hot summer.

“I just couldn’t see the summer going along with having something for these kids to do,” she said at the time.

The list goes on and on. But perhaps just as enduring will be the memory of the woman herself, always doing good but having a good time along the way.

“She was fun,” said Jim Roddey, the former Allegheny County executive. “She could be very serious, she could be tough, she could rip you up one side and down the other, but she was always your friend.”

She was someone who rubbed shoulders with presidents, but called everyone friend.

“She was a living legend when she was alive, but I think she’ll go down in the hearts and minds of lots and lots of people as someone who was out of the good off everybody. We’ll miss her,” said Bishop David Zubik, of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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Funeral arrangements will be private, though a community memorial is planned for Sept. 19 at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.

Her husband released this statement on the passing of his wife Henry Hillman:

“From an early age, she dedicated herself to serving others through civic organizations and philanthropy, but her greatest joy in life was her family. Elsie was happiest when surrounded by her family. 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.”

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason released this statement:

“Elsie Hillman was an icon of Republican politics in Pennsylvania. From an early age, Elsie demonstrated a deep commitment to improving the lives of others. She was a trailblazer not just for Republican women, but for anyone looking to make our Commonwealth and our country a better place. There are Republicans who’ve served at all levels of government who owe a deep debt of gratitude to Elsie Hillman. Her strength and tenacity will never be matched, and the thoughts and prayers of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania are with her family and friends at this time.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald issued this statement:

“Elsie Hillman is a name that resonates far and wide, but holds a special place in the hearts of many Pittsburghers. Mrs. Hillman dedicated her life to civic engagement, and was able to befriend those from all walks of life. She had a personality that connected her to people of all ages and backgrounds, and was known for her caring and generous heart. Mrs. Hillman’s contributions to this region are irreplaceable and her activism was admired by many. During my time in public office, Mrs. Hillman was always someone I could rely upon for advice and guidance, and her friendship will not soon be forgotten. We are mourning her loss today, and extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends.”

And Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto released this statement:

“I am greatly saddened at the death of my friend and advisor Elsie Hillman. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband Henry and the whole Hillman family. Elsie 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. We will miss her but never forget her.”

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