Searching for Richardson Dilworth

He was the aristocrat who found his voice as a populist. The cerebral lawyer who fought in two World Wars. The cocktail-shaker dilettante who became the greatest reformer in the history of the city. Here’s why, more than ever, we need a mayor like Dick Dilworth

THE FACE: WARM, kind, heavy-lidded and big-eyed, sensitive lips above a dimpled chin. Movie-star handsome, or so people always said. Gray hair in a perfect part. He was tall. He wore Stetson hats and semi-bowed to women in a Victorian manner. He spoke fluent French even though you could never persuade him the French weren’t a dirty people. His voice was a true upper-class honk, a little flatter than the New York honk described by Tom Wolfe — “one achieved it by forcing all words out through the nostrils rather than the mouth.” Dilworth’s was a Pittsburgh honk, the honk of his place of birth. He was a patrician, an aristocrat. Every day he rode a taxi back from City Hall and entered his home at 2217 St. James Street that was full of 18th-century English furniture and walked up the staircase, past the framed Tiepolo drawings, to his bedroom, where he took off his clothes, his armature of a fine double-breasted pinstriped suit, and ate a dinner cooked by the family’s longtime black maid, Hattie Wilson. He ate alone, in bed — he usually came home late, after his second wife, Ann Hill(2), had already eaten — and would relax and read the Sunday Times Book Review or watch TV. Then he’d dress and head back out to a political meeting or a rally. Then, before bed, he’d arrange the next day’s wardrobe on a silent valet: jacket, shoes, shirt with soft-pointed cuffs, “fairly wide” silk tie “but not the extreme width that one sees so much today,” as he once put it in a letter to his tie-maker in Miami Beach: all of it ready to go in the morning.
He was strict with his kids — six of them, from two marriages. “He was not a warm and cuddly person,” says his daughter Deborah Bishop. He didn’t know how to put a child on his lap and coo and play. But it was still “perfectly obvious to all his children that he loved them.”(3) And the way he loved them was to expose them to how the world really worked: to give them stacks of pamphlets to hand out at his rallies, these charged rallies where sometimes people would take the pamphlets (“Had Enough, Philadelphia? Then vote for Richardson Dilworth”) and sometimes they’d throw them in your face and spit at you, spit at a little kid. Or he’d take them to the theater on Sundays to see plays like Cat On a Hot Tin Roof — his kids, ages 10 and 11, slack-jawed in the seats next to him, absorbing the thoroughly adult melodrama, and Dilworth there with his legs crossed demurely, wool pant leg over wool pant leg, calmly transfixed.

2.  Hill was an aristocrat, too.

3.  It was a noisy home. In addition to the six kids, there were 12 miniature toy poodles that belonged to Dilworth’s wife, among them Boom Boom, Zsa Zsa, Cotton, Andrea, Doria and de Gaulle. Dilworth “wasn’t in love with them,” says his daughter, Deborah Bishop. Later, the family gave away the toy poodles and got a big black-haired standard poodle by the name of Puca, and this was the dog that Dilworth loved, because “it was a tough dog, it was a working dog.”