Hugh Brannan has influenced more than Brashear during his 36-year career
March 19, 2019
Sitting in Brashear's Museum Room, where much of South Side's history took place over the last 36 years and the Association's namesake is chronicled, it seemed appropriate Hugh Brannan was discussing his upcoming retirement considering he has played such a large part in both over that span.
A Baltimore native, Mr. Brannan left to train for the ministry at a Lutheran university in Columbus, Ohio where he went to seminary but was not ordained. An internship then brought him to Pittsburgh at the Zion Lutheran Church in Mt. Washington.
It was there he decided on a career change and began working as a member of the Consultation and Education staff at Southwest MHMR out of a satellite office on Paul Street in Mt. Washington.
In early 1983, Brashear had begun the search for a new executive director after less than two years under the ED at the time. Mr. Brannan, a Brashear Board Member at the time, was encouraged to apply for the position by Robert Foltz, president of Goodwill.
Marty Uram, a new Brashear Board Member, was part of the selection committee for the new executive director.
"It became clear to us that Hugh was the best choice for the position. We were impressed by his answers to our questions, his stability under fire, and his calmness. He was the unanimous choice of the committee and later the Board," Mr. Uram explained.
Mr. Brannan remembered he was relatively new to the Allentown Senior Center position and still had much work to be done. A "shared directorship" was suggested, with the majority of his time spent at Brashear and a lesser amount at the senior center.
The shared directorship arrangement continued until today, but will end with Mr. Brannan's retirement from Brashear. Although he expects to remain at the senior center.
"Hugh took over as executive director on Friday, April 1, 1983 – when both Brashear and South Side were beginning to experience their most serious crises in a generation. For South Side, it was the closing of the LTV (i.e. J&L) steel mill – the major employer for the community," Mr. Uram said.
"For Brashear, it was the potential loss or reduction in funding from its major source, the United Way. It's no wonder Hugh often kids about his start date – it was both Good Friday and April Fools' Day."
Mr. Uram said Mr. Brannan responded "superbly," justifying the Board's confidence in him during the difficult period and responding to the increased needs of the community due to the mill closing. He also moved the association to solid financial footing with the United Way.
"Both of these efforts led to Brashear's recognition as one of the preeminent agencies within the United Way family. Hugh's leadership qualities led him to be named head of the South Side Planning Forum, where his peerless work helped lead South Side through the mill downturn to its transformation into a city destination spot with the redevelopment of the LTV Steel Site into the SouthSide Works," Mr. Uram said.
Mr. Brannan noted that from the beginning he benefitted from a lot of goodwill toward Brashear and a level of trust associated with the Association. He would often say Brashear was like Switzerland and anyone or any group could come into the (Brashear) Center and feel comfortable.
When he speaking about his career Mr. Brannan rarely uses "I" in referring to his accomplishments, it's always "we," "the association" or "the Board." Through his tenure, he has led the association through the challenges of the closing of the mills, moving from more recreational activities at the association such as dance, sewing and driving classes and boys and girls' clubs to distributing government commodities (surplus cheese and butter), job training along with services and programs for families.
Brashear currently operates out of five locations in South Side, Arlington (South Side Slopes), Mt. Oliver and Allentown providing case management services, employment services and afterschool programs for children. Additionally, they operate food pantries at the Brashear Center and the Henry Kaufmann Center in the South Side Slopes/Arlington area.
Mr. Brannan explained Brashear has had a tradition of working with community organizations, to help build those organizations. He personally has been involved in much of the redevelopment that has happened throughout South Pittsburgh.
Through the years, he has sat on the Board of Directors of the South Pittsburgh Economic Revitalization Team, the Allentown Civic Association, South Side Local Development Company, and the South Side Chamber of Commerce among others. Although, some of his more remembered contributions came through his work as the chair of the South Side Planning Forum.
"I've had the privilege of knowing him since the early 1980s," says Gene Ricciardi. "All that time I remember him as being a true gentleman."
In the late 80s, the South Side community came together to address the parking problem at the time and formed the South Side Parking Task Force with members from all the community organizations at the time. The South Side Planning Forum was an outgrowth of the Task Force and was formed to address overall concerns of the neighborhood in addition to parking issues.
Mr. Ricciardi says Mr. Brannan was able to bring the neighborhood together. He was able to reach across the spectrum and respected people's opinions, treating everyone with dignity and respect.
"I've tried to follow in his footsteps," Mr. Ricciardi said.
In the formation days of the South Side Planning Forum, Mr. Ricciardi said he was asked to chair the fledging group. Instead, he suggested a co-chair arrangement with Mr. Brannan.
It wasn't long before Mr. Ricciardi said he recognized Mr. Brannan's communication skills and his ability to move things forward. Mr. Ricciardi would soon resign as co-chair, leaving Mr. Brannan as the chair of the group.
In his role as chair of the Planning Forum, Mr. Brannan has sat on: the LTV Site Steering Committee, guiding the development of the SouthSide Work Master Plan: the UPMC South Side Steering Committee, working with the health care giant to ensure access to health care during the transformation of a community hospital into an outpatient center; and, the SSLDC's Development Review Committee (which merged with the LTV Steering Committee with the sunsetting of the SSLDC), overseeing major building projects in the neighborhood.
He was and continued to be an integral part of the South Side Neighborhood Plan from the beginning, one of the first in the City of Pittsburgh, and was involved in the designation of the East Carson Street Historic District.
Mr. Brannan minimizes his role in the Development Review Committee, saying the committee mostly consists of architects making technical suggestions to developers. However, he was often the calming voice in the room, referencing the South Side Neighborhood Plan – the document that has guided development in the neighborhood since the early 1990s – to both committee members and developers as what the community wanted in its neighborhood.
Dr. Barbara Rudiak, president of the South Side Community Council and a Brashear Board Member, says there are two things that stand out about Mr. Brannan: his nonjudgmental demeanor and knowledge of South Side over time.
"As the facilitator of the Planning Forum, I don't recall him ever taking sides during a discussion. He would attempt to direct the discussion to a positive conclusion," she said.
Ms. Rudiak added whenever she needed to understand how or why something evolved or happened in South Side, Mr. Brannan or Christine Gaus, Brashear's now retired director of services, were her go-to people.
Councilman Bruce Kraus, who served on the Brashear Board for a decade before rolling off the Board at the end of last year, noted Mr. Brannan's calm and steady voice in community discussions. "He's such a steading force and we've always looked toward him for that."
"With Hugh's retirement as executive director of The Brashear Association, departs a leader unparalleled. It's impossible to measure the positive impact he has had throughout South Pittsburgh over the last 36 years. If one were to look up the definition of a gentleman, one would find the name, Hugh Brannan," Mr. Kraus said.
"When all is said and done, we've stayed true to our settlement house roots," Mr. Brannan said. He added the Association and its planned expansion in the Hilltop is positioned to explore ways to provide much needed services in the Hilltop.
"I never thought I would spend the rest of my career in South Side, but that's the way it worked out," he stated.
"A Sweet Send-Off," a dessert reception celebrating Mr. Brannan's retirement will take place at the Brashear Center, 2005 Sarah Street, on Friday, March 22 from 4-7 p.m. All are welcome to come and share their memories of and gratitude for his 36 years of service to Brashear.