CINCINNATI — Former Ohio legislator William L. Mallory, who was the state’s first black House majority leader and longest-serving in its history, died Tuesday in Cincinnati at the age of 82.
Former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said his father died peacefully at a hospice, surrounded by his family, after a brief illness.
Elected to the Ohio House in 1966, the elder Mallory served 28 years in the Legislature, including two decades as the Democratic leader in the House.
The Cincinnati native grew up in the city’s working-class West End and was so poor that he had to quit high school to get a job, Mark Mallory said at a news conference at the family’s historic home in the neighborhood.
A teacher persuaded William Mallory to get his equivalency when he was 19, after which he worked his way through Central State University. He held dozens of jobs between then and his time in office, including, as his son detailed, shining shoes, setting up bowling pins, selling newspapers, working in juvenile court, inspecting highways and teaching.
“This is a man who was faced with a lot of challenges, was faced with a lot of obstacles, but he worked very hard to overcome those obstacles,” Mark Mallory said. “His whole thought process was, ‘If I see a barrier, I just need to figure out a way around it.’”
Once elected, that included successfully pushing for drug prevention efforts, more public transportation, senior citizen issues and civil rights. After leaving the Legislature, he served on the Ohio Elections Commission, founded a nonprofit center for community development in Cincinnati, and taught political science and African-American studies at the University of Cincinnati.
House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said Mallory “leaves an indelible legacy” in Ohio politics.
“I have no doubt that Bill’s passion for serving others, which he instilled in his children, will continue to be exhibited for many years to come,” Batchelder said in a statement.
Democrat lawmakers in Columbus honored Mallory with a moment of silence Tuesday before a news conference on the economy.
House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, a Columbus Democrat, called Mallory a great mentor who would often offer advice while he visited the capital city.
Asked what words of his she had taken to heart, she said, “To show up and do the work, regardless of how hard it is.”
The chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party said he first met Mallory as a student at the University of Cincinnati, where Mallory taught. Alex Triantafilou said Mallory would bring in government leaders to speak to his class, stimulating students’ interest in public service.
“During my time leading the local opposition party, Rep. Mallory was always very gracious and always the consummate gentleman,” Triantafilou said in a statement.
The son of a laborer and domestic worker, Mallory had an early interest in politics, reading newspaper opinion pages as young as 12 and talking politics with black city councilman R.P. McClain, according to the Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
Mallory met his future wife at Central State and graduated with honors with a major in elementary education. He helped pay his way by painting dormitories and working in the school cafeteria.
Mallory was elected president of the West End Community Council in 1965, leading to his election to the House the next year. Eight years later, he was elected majority floor leader. By the time of his retirement in 1994, he had become the longest-serving majority leader and longest-serving Ohio representative from Hamilton County
He is survived by his wife, Fannie, and six children. Besides the former two-term Cincinnati mayor, his son Dale Mallory is in the Legislature and sons William Jr. and Dwane are Hamilton County municipal court judges.
On a more personal side, Mark Mallory said his father loved baseball, barbecue and dancing the jitterbug.
He described his father as a deeply spiritual man and a positive thinker.
“My father was a fantastic man,” Mallory said. “He was in our estimation, the best father anyone can have. We were fortunate to have him along with us as long as we did, and are grateful that we were able to share him with many people in the Cincinnati area, around the state and around the country.”