When asked what it’s like working with and knowing Bill Strickland, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he is “truly inspirational.”
“I feel like I’ve had the privilege to walk with a saint,” Peduto told the New Pittsburgh Courier exclusively. “That’s what it’s like. He’s made us all better through the work he’s done.”
For that work, and the relationships he’s forged throughout the city and across the globe in the 50 years since he established what is now the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, Strickland was awarded the Key to the City, Aug. 10, at a ceremony in the mayor’s conference room.
Noting he had been honored by mayors, governors, presidents and world leaders, Peduto said it was his honor to recognize him at home.
“All throughout this planet Mr. Strickland has been recognized, not only for his humanitarianism, but for his entrepreneurialism and his deep conviction of how you can change a place by helping people,” Peduto said. “He is part of the reason why Pittsburgh is on the global map. We’ll never be able to know all the lives he will touch.”
Strickland announced his retirement as president and CEO in June from the organization he founded in 1968 as the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, a free arts program for disadvantaged youth. It later incorporated the Bidwell Training Center and grew to include the Drew Mathieson Horticultural Center, the National Center for Arts and Technology, MCG Youth and Arts and the Grammy Award-winning MCG Jazz.
Joined by his wife and two daughters, Strickland said he was honored to receive such an award—only the third given—from Peduto.
“I’m especially honored to get it from you. Pittsburgh is on a roll, largely because of you. And because of the partnership you have with (Allegheny County Executive) Rich Fitzgerald,” he said. “It’s a level of cooperation that is unparalleled.”
Strickland then announced that, thanks to a grant from Gov. Tom Wolf and a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, a new center would be opening in Titusville. He then announced that he and Peduto would possibly be meeting with the Dalai Lama about building a center in India.
“What’s great about that is when you go to ask people for money, and you tell them your partner is the Dalai Lama, they are very reluctant to say no,” Strickland said.
Valerie Njie, executive director and vice president of the Bidwell Training Center, said it’s been a pleasure working with Strickland. She said he gave her a clean slate as long as she was a positive difference for the students.
“When you think of how young he was when he started this—he could have taken it anywhere,” she said. “But he is selfless—you can see it in his face. He’ll never leave us, and we have a lot of people who are committed to his vision.”
Strickland said yes, the city’s success is partially tied to Manchester’s achievements giving investors, corporations and entrepreneurs a reason to give Pittsburgh a look.
“It’s because we thought the community is part of the overall solution,” he said. “The city has benefited from that situation, and from the fact that Bill Peduto and I became friends.”
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