Remembering Patricia Pelkofer: Tenacious Environmentalist and Founding Member of GASP

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Hotline, Summer 2003

Those of us who are deeply involved in work we care about know that the truth of the matter is that there are usually a few people that are always there — to move the project ahead, to involve others, and to finish the job. GASP has been blessed with having more than our share of these wonderful individuals over the years, but even among these great volunteers there are special people, and Pat was one of them. She was a founding member of GASP and a board member for many years. She not only led the way on many GASP endeavors, she also made sure the every day organization activities were handled. As editor of the GASP newsletter for many years, she was often at her dining room table, typing and later folding, labeling and bundling newsletters into the night. The following obituary from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recognizes her for her exceptional contribution. We will miss you, Pat.

by Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2003

Patricia Pelkofer, one of the founders of the Group Against Smog and Pollution and a dedicated and indefatigable advocate for the environment and the University of Pittsburgh, made it to all sorts of meetings and made many of them worthwhile.

A behind-the-scenes organizer whose calm and unassuming demeanor cloaked an iron-willed determination and a deep knowledge of environmental regulations, Mrs. Pelkofer served on a multitude of boards, committees and subcommittees, winning respect from colleagues in the environmental movement and the government regulators she often debated.

Mrs. Pelkofer died May 18 at West Penn Hospital of complications from heart disease. She was 76.

“This is a great tragedy for the air quality program,” said Dan Bricmont, chairman of the Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Citizens Advisory Committee. At Tuesday’s meeting of that committee, Mrs. Pelkofer’s name was still on the agenda to deliver the report of the pollution prevention subcommittee, which she chaired.

“I can’t remember a time when Pat Pelkofer was not around and I’ve been here for 29 years,” said Roger Westman, the Health Department’s division manager for air quality.

A Pittsburgh native and resident of Oakland, Mrs. Pelkofer came by her volunteer service naturally — from her parents, who were volunteers at schools, churches and political parties, and served as air raid wardens during World War II.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, she had been active on the Alumnae Council, an organization supporting women students at the university, since the 1950s.

In 1969, she helped found GASP, which became one of the most successful grass-roots organizations in the country. She served on its board of directors, was editor of its monthly Hot Line newsletter and promoted its mission at the many meetings she attended.

“For quite a while in GASP she was the unpaid everything,” said Sue Seppi, the group’s executive director. “She was there to remind you of all the detail things and always tried to get others to step up and get involved.”

Seppi said Mrs. Pelkofer was the ultimate committee person, who knew the material and was not shy in expressing herself.

“If she got angry, she made her point appropriately and forcefully, but always with a polite voice and a smile,” Seppi said. “She was a citizen who gave of her time willingly.”

Her interest in toxic waste problems led her to become a member of the state Solid Waste Advisory Committee from 1984 to 1996. The committee reviews all solid hazardous waste and recycling laws and regulations.

In 1988, Mrs. Pelkofer served on the Allegheny County Emergency Planning Committee, which formulated the first hospital emergency response plan in the United States to address toxic emergencies.

She was also on the board of the Pittsburgh Hearing and Speech Center and the Group for Recycling in Pennsylvania and on the technical advisory board for the Western Regional Office of the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

“A lot of the time she didn’t want to be out in front but worked behind the scenes on the nitty-gritty, technical things,” said her sister, Gloria Anderson of Forest Hills. “But she would always speak up at the right time. She’d listen at these hearings or meetings for hours, then stand up and say it’s time to fix things. And she would never give up.”

Betsy Mallison, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, said Mrs. Pelkofer helped frame policies for public involvement.

“She was one of the pillars of the environmental community,” Mallison said.

In addition to her sister, Mrs. Pelkofer is survived by her husband, Cletus, and a son, George, both of Oakland.

A reception celebrating Mrs. Pelkofer’s life will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. June 19 at Duranti’s Restaurant, Craig Street, Oakland. The family asks those attending to bring any tributes, mementos or photos they may want to share.

Reprinted with permission from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.