Beverly Pollock, above all else, was a writer.
Her resume, like a cup, overflowed: wife, mother, communications director at Pittsburgh’s United Jewish Federation, Temple David charter member, radio personality, AIDS activist.
But what most remember about Pollock is the word — either in the knee-slapping comedy skits she wrote with Shirley Katz for countless organizations, her touching plays or her long-running opinion column, “Quoth The Maven,” which started in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle in 1967 and eventually was syndicated in more than a dozen Jewish newspapers nationwide.
Pollock even wrote her own obituary — twice.
“She was kind of before her time — she was born in the wrong era,” said Susan Pollock Stein, Pollock’s daughter, who lives in San Diego. “Nowadays, she would’ve been a journalist. Those outlets just weren’t there for her at the time. These were the years mothers didn’t work.”
A whiz with the pen who loved her family and friends passionately and, in her later years, opened her heart to Pittsburgh’s AIDS community, Pollock passed away on May 29. She was 99.
Though Pollock came of age in western Pennsylvania, she was born a Southerner — in Bessemer, Alabama. At a young age, she moved to Atlanta and later graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She met Mel Pollock, married him and then relocated to Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, outside Altoona. The couple eventually settled and raised four children in Churchill.
Though the history is unclear, Pollock started writing an opinion column titled “Slightly Irreverent” for the Monroeville Times-Express, said Eric Lidji, the director of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center. Then, in 1967 came “Quoth The Maven,” a topical opinion column in the Chronicle. Pollock helped fan the flames to get it published in 16 Jewish newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.
“My mom was a big part of the Chronicle,” Stein said. “Her column, it’s what everybody turned to first. If you were Jewish, you read the Chronicle. And my mom was kind of a Jewish Erma Bombeck.”
“In addition, she and her writing partner, Shirley Katz, wrote many comedy skits for Jewish organizations in the ’50s and ’60s, including UJF, Hadassah and Temple David,” she added. “She and Shirley also had a daily radio show for a time and also wrote a skit that helped pass the Truth in Packaging Bill. It was recognized at the signing by President Johnson.”
Pollock helped found Temple David in Monroeville and became active in its sisterhood, Lidji said. This led to a role on the board of the United Jewish Federation’s women’s division. She wrote an exceptional two-minute introduction for the UJF president for an event and quickly landed the job of PR and communications director in 1971, working at UJF through her retirement in 1989.
“The Federation was diversifying a lot during these years,” Lidji said. “Her ability to communicate really well and to write really clearly — all those things would make you very successful at that job.”
Pollock later studied playwrighting at the University of Pittsburgh and wrote two plays that were staged locally – “It’s Business” and “Looking For Magic.”
Shortly after Pollock’s retirement, in 1992, her son, Robert, died from AIDS in Los Angeles. In 1995, her other son, Larry also died from AIDS. (Her play “Looking For Magic” examines the AIDS crisis from a parent’s perspective.)
This started a new chapter in the life of Pollock and her husband: They opened their arms to those suffering from AIDS as a kind of extended family in Pittsburgh.
“In (my sons’) honor and memory, Mel and I founded the ‘Jews with AIDS in the Family’ with the support of Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the UJF in 1992,” Pollock wrote in a draft of her obituary. “I continue to volunteer with AIDS agencies in Pittsburgh; working in the AIDS community helps keep our boys alive. I just turned 87. Which proves some folks take longer to re-write scripts.”
Pollock, during this time, served as a board president for the AIDS awareness group Shepherd Wellness Community, or SWC.
“Beverly was a longtime SWC board member who, along with her husband Mel, provided guidance and support to hundreds of people living with HIV/AIDS,” the group said in a statement about Pollock’s death. “Her dedication and passion helped our SWC members find help and hope during the early years of the epidemic.”
“For many years, Beverly worked tirelessly to help our community grow by employing her expertise in strategic planning, fundraising and community relations,” the statement said. “For many years Beverly facilitated a Parents Support Group, which provided a supportive place for parents when their children became infected by HIV or when they lost a child to AIDS. She also became an adopted mother to many of our members who had been rejected by their families.”
Beverly and Mel Pollock became “adoptive parents” to many young people with HIV and AIDS, at a time when many in society were shunning them, said Scott Peterman, a retired executive director of SWC.
“Beverly and Mel offered them acceptance and unconditional love, along with wise counsel,” Peterman said. “Beverly and Mel were able to share their own journey and offer support to other parents in a way that no one else could.”
Beverly Pollock “made this beautiful and impressive career that had an impact on a lot of people,” said Lidji, who met and interviewed Pollock in Arizona, where her daughter, Sally, lives, in 2019. “I found it really inspirational, her life. I enjoyed getting to know her.”
Mel Pollock died in 2008, after more than 64 years of marriage. Beverly Pollock spent her last years in San Diego, living near Stein.
“Mom’s most important lesson was that family comes first — always,” her daughters, Susan and Sally, wrote as part of her eulogy. “That’s a lesson all her descendants have learned and will teach theirs.”
“She was well-educated, a very Southern lady — very warm-hearted, very beloved,” Stein told the Chronicle. “She was a good mom and she was a remarkable woman — well before her time.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.