William Mallory, Sr.: One of Cincinnati's great leaders leaves living legacy

First black majority leader of Ohio House dies

CINCINNATI – As an Ohio legislator representing Cincinnati, William L. Mallory, Sr., was one of the most powerful figures in state government for more than two decades.

As a father, he inspired five sons – including two-term mayor Mark Mallory - to enter public service and continue his legacy of helping others.

The Queen City lost one of its great leaders when Mallory, Sr., died Tuesday morning at the age of 82.

Mallory Sr., a Democrat, became the first African-American majority floor leader in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1974 and held that position for a record 20 years.

Mallory sponsored or co-sponsored more than 600 pieces of legislation including the creation of the first statewide drug prevention program and the financing of Riverfront Stadium and Fountain Square.

All told, he served 28 years in the statehouse from 1966 to 1994.

Locally, he started the Council on Aging and sued to change the way Municipal Court judges are elected. He was a champion for the poor and the elderly, as befits a man who grew up poor in the West End.

Perhaps Mallory’s greatest legacy lies in his children who went into public service -- including Dale (Ohio state representative), William and Dwane (Hamilton County Municipal Court judges) and Joe (administrator with the Hamilton County Board of Education).

“My father was a fantastic man," Mark Mallory said Tuesday at a news conference with his brothers. "He was, in our estimation, the best father anyone could have ...

"We were fortunate that we were able to share such a great man with so many people who had so much passion in his heart for the community and for doing good."

William Mallory, Sr., was family-oriented and spiritual, an athlete and a cook who wrote poetry, danced the jitterbug and taught generations about the value of service.   

It wasn’t just the good things he did that set him apart, it was how he did them.

Even his political opponents agreed that he always acted in a civil manner with a focus on what's best for the people. 

"He always worked to make sure that he was using his influence to benefit the community,"  Mark Mallory said.

"My dad was a heck of a humanitarian and his heart was in social work,” Dale Mallory said. “ … The social workers loved him. His former students loved him."

Dale Mallory didn’t point to his father’s lawsuit against Hamilton County or to the stadium or the square as symbols of his legacy.

He pointed to a traffic light at Linn and Clark streets in the West End.

Residents wanted it for safety and his father fought the city to have it installed.

"His example was so strong and powerful and we understood what you could accomplish in the political arena to do more for other people,” said Joe Mallory. “It wasn't about us.  It was never about us."

State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati), president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which was partly founded by Mallory, Sr., paid tribute to him in this statement Tuesday:

"Mr. Mallory's commitment to his family, public service, his neighborhood, and the State of Ohio is an example for all. His legacy will never die!"

State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Clifton) added:

“Mr. Mallory was a champion of justice for all people and has left a distinguished legacy behind. He was a remarkable man and will be greatly missed.”

Mark Mallory said it was his father's mission in life to help others.

“He decided very early on, when he was about 12 years old, that he wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and he set out at that point to make sure that that happened,” the then mayor said in a 2008 interview.

“He dealt with issues of homelessness, the need for day care services. Of course, I think everybody knows he filed a suit to change the way judges are elected in Hamilton County.”

In 1986, Mallory Sr. challenged the system of electing judges on a county-wide basis. From 1965 to 1985, no black candidate for judge won a head-to-head election against a white candidate.

As a result of the suit, county voters elect Municipal Court judges by district.

Mallory, Sr., was born in 1931 to a casual laborer and a domestic. As a boy, he sold newspapers in front of City Hall and read them voraciously, particularly the editorial pages. He read constantly.

Conversations with Dr. R.P. McClain, the family's doctor and Cincinnati’s second black city councilman, fueled the young Mallory’s desire to enter public service.

He was later elected secretary of student government in high school and president of the Ninth Street "Hi Y" club of the YMCA.

In a 2008 interview, Mallory Sr. talked about dreaming to succeed.

“When I was growing up, the older people would always tell you, ‘Get an education, so you won’t have to dig ditches like I’ve done.’ They told you if you could get an education, no one could take it away from you,” he recalled.

Still, Mallory, Sr., dropped out of high school for a time to work odd jobs and help support his family.

“He was an ice man. He was a junk man. He set up bowling pins. He sold newspapers. He shined shoes," Mark Mallory


Later, Mallory, Sr.,  graduated from East Vocational High School and enrolled at Central State University in 1951.

“I arrived at Central State University with an old beat-up suitcase, two pairs of pants and without any money," Mallory recalled in 2008.

He worked his way through college by painting dormitories and working in the cafeteria. He graduated with honors with a degree in elementary education.

It was at Central State where he met his wife to-be Fannie. They married in 1955.

After graduation, Mallory worked for the juvenile court and for the Hamilton County Welfare Department. He also taught elementary school for eight years and was an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati.

He followed his interest in politics and was elected president of the West End Community Council in 1965. The next year, he ran for the statehouse and won.  

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber named William Mallory a Great Living Cincinnatian in 2008. (See the video below).

At the time, Mark Mallory was still in the first of his two terms as Cincinnati mayor and spoke lovingly and admiringly of his father.

“Because my dad is my hero, I want to do a good job. I want him to be proud of me. But I also understand I will never be as great as he is. That’s just the reality of idolizing someone as great as my father.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released the following statement Tuesday:

“Jane and I were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of William L. Mallory, Sr. He was a man of humble beginnings who led by example and dedicated his life to public service, most of which was spent in the statehouse where he was the first African American Majority Floor Leader. He worked to ensure that others in our community could share in the same success he achieved. As patriarch of the Mallory family, William leaves behind that legacy of service and civility from which we can all learn. I always valued his friendship, and our thoughts and prayers are with Fannie and the entire Mallory family as they mourn his loss.”

Services are incomplete. A public memorial and a private family ceremony are planned.

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