June 2002


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International Appeal
Pitt-Bradford Scholarship Recipient

Divia Thani stepped off the plane, two stuffed suitcases in tow. The sleepy town of Bradford, nestled in the lush foliage of northwestern Pennsylvania, was a world away from the hustle-bustle of her hometown—Mumbai, India.

At the age of 17, Thani was a self-described “hard-core city girl,” hailing from the cosmopolitan center of India. Mumbai, a city of more than 10 million, is home to “Bollywood”—Tinseltown, Indian-style—and the Indian Stock Exchange.

For college, the city girl hoped to study abroad. Pitt-Bradford caught her eye for several reasons—the affiliation with an established university, the apartment-style dormitories, the proximity to New York City. “Evidently, my geography of North America was grossly lacking at the time,” she quips.

Pitt-Bradford offered her scholarship money, but not enough to clinch the deal. Thani was not a US citizen, so federal and state funds were out of the question. She decided to place a call to the school. Once she got through, she stared at the clock on the wall while a Pitt-Bradford employee reviewed her papers. She was worried, not just about the school’s decision whether to up the ante, but her phone bill, too. “Calls to the US are dreadfully expensive—almost a dollar a minute!”

Minutes later, Thani was offered the school’s first scholarship to an international student.

With the scholarship, she took Bradford by storm. She helped get the international club on its feet, worked as a resident advisor, and studied in London. Without the financial help, she wouldn’t have developed passions for Hispanic literature, marketing, and even belly dancing (all things she “picked up” in the States).

Pitt-Bradford hopes to offer more scholarships to promising students, thanks to the benevolence of two sisters who called Bradford home. Dorothy Reed, who died last year, left $1 million to the school (the largest gift ever received); that scholarship money complements $375,000 her deceased sister Berdena Coit left to the school in 1995. Their gifts have led to the establishment of the Reed-Coit Scholarship Challenge.
—Diana Moffo

Civil Action
Lawmaker Donates Wealth of Knowledge

A lifelong hobbyist, Irvis displayed several woodcarvings in this 1940s newspaper photo. Samples of his craftwork—along with memories of a lifetime of public service—are now on display at Hillman Library.
It had been a long day. Hungry, tired, and thirsty, K. Leroy Irvis took a stroll down Pittsburgh’s Fifth Avenue searching for a five and dime where he could get a Coke and a hot dog. He went in, sat at the counter, and waited for what seemed like forever for someone to serve him. No one ever came. Angered, Irvis returned to his office at the Urban League and recruited two colleagues to sit at the counter with him.

The manager called the police. These men are causing a disturbance, he claimed. A police officer arrived, asking about the “confusion.” Seeing three men, politely waiting to get a meal, he told the manager they weren’t doing anything illegal; he should just serve them.

Irvis joined the Urban League in the 1940s, hoping to help others challenge inequality. That lunch protest was one of his early attempts at civil disobedience. When this proved to be a slow route, he entered Pitt law school. Ignoring long walks to school, and sometimes gnawing hunger pains, he worked in the sweaty heat of the steel mills, toiling for his tuition.

Little did he think that 50 years later, he would have a room named after him at the University, thanks to a $250,000 grant made by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Irvis received his law degree in 1954, then struggled to find work as a lawyer. He first worked at the Pittsburgh Courier [*] newspaper and after serving as an assistant to several Allegheny County judges, he finally became an assistant district attorney.

One day, Pittsburgh Mayor David L. Lawrence approached Irvis about representing one of the city’s districts in the state house. Irvis liked the idea. He mounted a campaign in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and won. The first bill he sponsored prohibited real estate and property discrimination; he was on his way to smashing racial barriers.

Failed bills and even a doomed Supreme Court case against the Moose Lodge for discrimination because he was African-American didn’t stop him from pursuing his agenda of equality and human rights. He started earning his way into leadership roles, spending 26 of his 30 years in the House in such positions. In 1977 he was elected the first African-American speaker of the house[*]—a position he held for eight years (not consecutively).

During his 30-year career, he sponsored a multitude of bills concerning a wide array of subjects such as housing, civil rights, and education (including one that transformed Pitt into a state-related university). He was also a sculptor, poet, patron of the arts, and a model airplane aficionado.

Through the years, his staff diligently filed away copies of bills, worn newspaper clippings, scrawled correspondence to his constituents, friends, and fellow politicians—even orders for airplane kits. Everything ended up in boxes that littered his home until he recalled a promise he made to an old friend, Pitt’s late Chancellor Wesley Posvar, to donate his papers to the University. His 89 boxes of papers sat in the archive service center, hidden in dusty corners, waiting for a permanent home.

In 1999, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s grant enabled Pitt to build a reading room in Hillman Library, allowing students and professors to peruse the Irvis materials. Two years later—after the staff at the archives arranged, dated, and preserved the documents—the K. Leroy Irvis Room was dedicated. Irvis has an office at Hillman so he can help others understand the papers.

“A number of students have been there already, and I’m very glad,” he says. “After all, the future of all mankind depends on young people. I have faith that the young people in this country, and all the countries of the world, will seize the political power and take control.”
—Meghan Holohan

Building Blocks

A Japanese teacher wrote to American colleagues, asking someone to explain “democracy.” A social studies teacher in Rochester, New York, wrote back. Their international correspondence piqued an interest in foreign affairs for the New York teacher’s daughter. Dorothea de Zafra (GSPIA ’65) found it difficult to get her career going, though. Her first job offer after graduation was as a typist. To make certain other foreign affairs students have fewer roadblocks, de Zafra has created a $100,000 fellowship endowment in her name, supporting student internships and international conference participation.

In 1996, Charles Perlow (LAW ’79) established the Perlow Family Visiting Professorship. It enabled Pitt students to study Classical Judaism, which includes courses in rabbinical thought, Jewish and Hebrew literature, and Jewish philosophy. The courses were so well received that Perlow, a Pittsburgh resident, recently pledged $250,000 to create a permanent lectureship within the Department of Jewish Studies.

Jim Craig (GSPH ’63) wanted to say thank you. Now semi-retired, the Minneapolis resident did it by pledging $25,000 to the Graduate School of Public Health.

To find out more, check out Pitt's Office of Institutional Advancement.

*—Denotes an external link. Links to external Web sites are offered for informational purposes only and the information there is not guaranteed or endorsed by the University of Pittsburgh or its affiliates.

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