An All-Time Winner
An Olympian celebrates Pitt—and the 60th anniversary of his Bronze Medal win
A 9-year-old lines up for a race at his YMCA summer camp. Though small, the youngster darts to victory with amazing speed. The campers cheer. Eventually, the world beyond the green woods of Pennsylvania will witness the remarkable athletic ability of Herb Douglas (EDUC ’48, ’50G).
Douglas’ fleet feet carried him from Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood to the 1948 London Olympics, where he won the bronze medal in the long jump. This year marks the 60th anniversary of that achievement.
When the University of Pittsburgh alumnus retired from competitive sports, he made his mark in business and philanthropy. Now, the Pitt emeritus trustee is busy innovating, inspiring, and reaching back to help others achieve success.
If not for the early discovery of his athletic prowess, Douglas would have followed his father into entrepreneurship rather than going to college. Herbert Paul Douglas Sr. ran a parking garage in Shadyside and presided over a close-knit family. He taught his son service, integrity, and commitment. Those values aided a young Douglas as he won city championships in tumbling, sprinting, and basketball and captured state titles in track and field. In 1940, he set a school broad jump record that stood for 33 years.
Breaking sports records and racial barriers wasn’t easy. Douglas, the first Black basketball player at Allderdice High, quit that squad in 1940 after teammates refused to pass him the ball. Segregation and Jim Crow were the order of the day, yet he continued to excel, winning an athletic scholarship to Xavier University in New Orleans.
Ralph Metcalfe, the Xavier coach who recruited Douglas, had won four track medals in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. Under his tutelage, Douglas’ 440-relay team made Xavier, in 1942, the first Black college to win a national title. During his sophomore year, World War II was raging and Douglas returned to Pittsburgh to work with his father, who—when Herb was in the first grade—had become blind because of a stroke. Working with and observing his disciplined father helped Douglas learn to “analyze, organize, initiate, and follow through,” he says. “Anyone who follows those four steps can succeed.”
Douglas transferred to Pitt in 1945 and became close friends with Jimmy Joe Robinson, another pioneering Black student-athlete. Along with Allen Carter, they became the first Black football players at Pitt. Douglas also won four intercollegiate championships in the long jump and one in the 100-yard dash.
After graduating and becoming an Olympic champion, Douglas worked more than 30 years in New York in sales and marketing. As he climbed the corporate ladder, he used his influence to get African Americans hired and then mentored them along the way. In the course of his work, he befriended civil-rights legends such as Medgar Evers, Andrew Young, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1963 Douglas moved to Philadelphia, where he lives today with his second wife, Minerva. (His first wife died, and he remarried in 1990.) He worked his way up to a vice presidency at Schieffelin & Co., an importer of premium wines and spirits. He was one of the first Black vice presidents of a top national company.
From left: Mark A. Nordenberg, Nelson Mandela, and Herb Douglas
Since his retirement 21 years ago, his life’s focus has been philanthropy. He created the International Amateur Athletic Association in 1980 to honor his hero, Jesse Owens, the celebrated track and field athlete who won four Gold Medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Each year in New York City, the association bestows one of the most prestigious sports awards of its kind, the American-International Athlete Trophy, on the world’s most outstanding amateur athletes. Greg Louganis, Mary Decker, Carl Lewis, and Lance Armstrong are past recipients. And the association’s Global Award for Peace has honored the likes of Ted Turner, President George H.W. Bush, and Nelson Mandela. Douglas established the awards “to give back” to Owens, who was like his “big brother.” Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, whom Douglas praises for honoring the contributions of African Americans to Pitt, chairs the awards committee.
Douglas encourages African Americans to matriculate at Pitt and to excel. Roger Kingdom (CGS ’02), who won Olympic gold in the 110-meter high hurdles in 1984 and ’88, was a Pitt sophomore when he met Douglas 25 years ago. Kingdom—who won the Athlete Trophy in 1990—describes Douglas as a father figure and mentor who gave him advice for the Olympics and continually pushed him to earn his bachelor’s degree, which he eventually did. This year is the 20th anniversary of Kingdom’s 1988 Gold Medal win. Both Douglas and Kingdom traveled to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Mr. Douglas is one of those individuals who goes far above and beyond to help his fellow man,” says Kingdom. “I’ve seen him help countless people. And retirement didn’t stop that. It’s like his mission has just begun.”
In fact, Douglas is giving generously in a way that will live beyond him. A longtime supporter of the University, he has made a bequest intention for a six-figure gift “to help some kids like I was helped.” The department’s Office of Planned Giving helps alumni and friends identify easy ways to support the University financially into the future. “Planned giving is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the University’s goal in fundraising,” says office associate Lisa J. Sciullo. “It gives everyone an opportunity to participate and give back.”
Douglas will be the first to tell you that you don’t have to be an Olympian to do it.
Vice Chancellor for Institutional
Advancement Al Novak
Notes from Novak
Warm greetings from the University of Pittsburgh!
In June, we celebrated the generosity of the University’s leadership donors during the Cathedral of Learning Society Dinner. The Cathedral of Learning Society honors donors who have given $1 million or more to the University throughout their lifetimes—recognizing those who have a vision for the University of Pittsburgh just like Chancellor Bowman, who envisioned the Cathedral of Learning, then made it happen.
This year, inductees included Bettye J. Bailey and Ralph E. Bailey, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall P. Katz, and John C. Mascaro and Darlene D. Mascaro. Tina B. Bellet and David F. Bellet, David Alan Tepper, and Dick and Ginny Thornburgh were unable to attend the 2008 Cathedral of Learning Society ceremony. They will be formally inducted in 2009.
It was a delight to celebrate the contributions and foresight of the members of the Cathedral of Learning Society during that special event. But it is also important to recognize all of the members of the Pitt community who, by virtue of working together, are making a difference in the lives of students and faculty for years to come.
As you will read in the accompanying article about one of our most distinguished alumni, Herb Douglas, there are many donors who are thinking about the future. Some, like Herb, are planning ahead by sharing with us their bequest intentions for the University of Pittsburgh. These gifts are easy to do and can have an incredible impact
on the long-term well-being of our institution. If you would like more information about bequests or other planned giving opportunities, please visit www.pitt.planyourlegacy.org or call 1-800-817-8943.
Donors like Herb Douglas are leaving a legacy for generations of Pitt people. Their vision will ensure that Pitt continues to be a great place to learn and grow. On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, thank you for all that you do to make Pitt what it is today and what it will be in the future.
Hail to Pitt,
Institutional Advancement is committed to reaching the University’s ambitious $2 billion goal. Pitt’s alumni and friends have contributed generously, making our current campaign status $1.273 billion!