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William E. Trueheart Biography

Read Way to Career in Education, Led Country's Largest Literacy Program


Educator, non-profit administrator

When William E. Trueheart became the first African American to lead a private New England college in 1989, his appointment made national headlines. However, he had long been a prominent figure in higher education. As a decorated Harvard scholar, doctoral graduate, and college administrator, Trueheart had made his mark in the world of educational theory and administration. However it would not be until he left the ivy-covered towers of academia that his dedication to education would reach those who needed it most—children, families, and community members. He has since been responsible for delivering free books to millions of children nationwide, promoting literacy programs in thousands of communities, and even going so far as to making sure inner-city children had a pool to cool off in during the long heat of summer. Though Harvard University put Trueheart on its board of overseers and city officials clamored for his advice, it is the children nationwide who, finishing their first book, taking their first breaststroke, stand as the true testament to Trueheart's career.

Read Way to Career in Education

William E. Trueheart was born to Louise Elnora Harris and Junious Elton Trueheart on July 10, 1942. He was raised in Stamford, Connecticut, where his early life was immersed in literature. "One of the most touching things I can remember in my life is when my fifth grade teacher, knowing my love of reading, bought me a book on the Wright brothers—something we didn't have in our library," Trueheart told the Kennedy School of Government Bulletin. "It was her way of encouraging me to read." It worked. By the time Trueheart reached junior high he had read every autobiography and biography book in his elementary school library and had joined Stamford's public library in order to read more.

After finishing high school, Trueheart chose to stay close to home for college, enrolling in the University of Connecticut. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1966, he began his career in education, also at the University of Connecticut. From 1966 to 1968 he was the assistant director of admissions. The following year he received a one-year fellowship from the American Council of Education, which he also carried out at Connecticut. In 1969 Trueheart served one year as assistant to the university president; then he became the director of the university's academic advisory center and assistant to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He held these two positions concurrently until 1972.

Trueheart left Connecticut to become a graduate student at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government where he received a master's in public administration in 1973. While at Harvard, Trueheart proved his merit as a scholar by earning several prestigious fellowships. He was a Littauer Fellow in 1973 and from 1974 to 1979 he held consecutive fellowships from the Charles I. Travelli Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He used these fellowships to research the book Production Function Analysis in High Education: General Methodology and Applications to Four Year Black Colleges, which he co-authored in 1977. Trueheart also used the fellowships to pursue doctoral studies at Harvard, earning a PhD in education in 1979.

Doctorate in hand, Trueheart returned to his career in higher education. From 1979 to 1983 he was the assistant dean at the Kennedy School of Government. He then moved to Harvard's governing board as an associate secretary, a position he held for three years. In 1986 Trueheart went to Rhode Island to become the executive vice president of Bryant College, a small, private college in the suburbs of Providence. Three years later he was appointed president. Trueheart's promotion was historical. He was the first African American to hold the top spot at a four-year private college in New England.

During seven years as president of Bryant, Trueheart initiated several important programs. He was instrumental in helping Bryant qualify for Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation. Just over 25 percent of the nation's 1,000-plus business schools have met the rigorous standards of the AACSB. Because of Trueheart's efforts to achieve the accreditation, Bryant has received national recognition for its business program. Drawing on this reputation, Trueheart spearheaded the Center for Design & Business, a joint program between Bryant and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The innovative program was designed to help entrepreneurs make the leap from idea to production with classes on marketing, production, patenting, and business basics. "They really did help shape our company," one graduate told the Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. "What's so unique about it is it combines design with business—it's just not happening enough in the world."

While at Bryant, Trueheart also became heavily involved in civic and community work, particularly with groups focused on education. He joined the boards of the Public Education Fund Network, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the New England Education Loan Marketing Corporation, and the Rhode Island Independent Higher Education Association. On the business side he was appointed to the boards of Fleet National Bank, the Narragansett Electric Company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and various Chambers of Commerce. His expertise in higher education and public administration also made him a valuable consultant to organizations as varied as the Ford Foundation, Arthur D. Little, Inc., the United States National Parks Service, and the College of the Atlantic.

Led Country's Largest
Literacy Program

Trueheart left Bryant in 1996 and—after a brief stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard University—moved from higher education to general education. He became the president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the country's oldest and largest non-profit children's literacy program. It was a perfect fit for Trueheart who told the National Education Association, "As a child, I spent every day reading in the library, and that love of literacy spilled into my work."

At a Glance …

Born on July 10, 1942, in Stamford, CT; married Carol Ann Word, 1988. Education: University of Connecticut, BA, political science, 1966; Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, MPA, public administration, 1973; Harvard University, PhD, education, 1979.

Career: University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, assistant director of admissions, 1966-68; University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, assistant to the president, 1969-70; University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, assistant to the dean, director of the academic advisory center, 1970-72; Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA, assistant dean, 1979-83; Harvard University Office of Governing Boards, Cambridge, MA, associate secretary to the university, 1983-86; Bryant College, Smithfield, RI, executive vice president, 1986-89; Bryant College, Smithfield, RI, president, 1989-96; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, visiting scholar, 1996-97; Reading is Fundamental, Washington, DC, CEO, 1997-2001; The Pittsburgh Foundation, Pittsburgh, PA, CEO, 2001–.

Selected memberships: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, board member; Harvard University, board of overseers; Learning Network Education Partners, board member; University of Pittsburgh, board member; Allegheny Conference on Community Development, board member.

Selected awards: Harvard University, Littauer Fellow, 1973; Black Alumni Association, Award of Excellence, 1989; Johnson and Wales University, honorary doctorate, 1996; Vectors/Pittsburgh Men and Women of the Year, Man of the Year in Finance, 2004; University of Connecticut, Distinguished Alumni Award.

Addresses: Office—The Pittsburgh Foundation, One PPG Place, 30th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

When Trueheart took over at RIF, he was faced with a waiting list of over one million children needing books, ongoing problems with funding, and a downward sliding national literacy rate. Trueheart tackled the problems head-on with the traits that have come to define his professional career—innovation, diplomacy, and scholarship. According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, upon joining RIF Trueheart "launched an ambitious strategy to expand RIF services to about 1.3 million more children by the end of 2001." To do this Trueheart undertook a round-the-clock schedule of lobbying, fundraising, and partnering with powerful allies.

One of the most high-profile programs created under Trueheart's watch at RIF was Read to Achieve, sponsored by the National Basketball Association (NBA). The program opened Reading and Learning Centers nationwide that provided young people with access to books and technology. "Children who face a future of low literacy also face limited job prospects, low salaries, poor health care, social isolation, and few educational opportunities," Trueheart said in a PR Newswire article. "To those children, NBA players are heroes and readers. RIF's long-term alliance with the NBA has already inspired millions of children to love reading and we look forward to an even stronger connection between our two organizations." In addition to the NBA, Trueheart nurtured partnerships with Coca-Cola, J. Crew, and Scholastic Publishers. He also turned to new ways to promote literacy including internet, cable, and satellite television programs.

Focused Skills on Community
and Country

Trueheart's next move brought him to Pittsburgh. In July of 2001 he was appointed CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, the 17th largest community foundation in the country with assets in excess of $548 million. With his appointment, Trueheart moved further away from educational work and deeper into community work which encompasses not only education but economic, family, health, and cultural issues. "I'm eager to join The Pittsburgh Foundation leadership team to encourage and nurture more substantial, thorough community involvement and investment," Trueheart was quoted as saying in the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Trueheart wasted no time getting involved in the local community. In addition to his role with the foundation Trueheart co-chaired a city-sponsored evaluation of the Pittsburgh public school system. He was also instrumental in organizing SOS—Save Our Summer, a fund-raising drive that helped reopen half of Pittsburgh's public swimming pools and several of its recreation centers. And in an unprecedented move for a major city, Pittsburgh found itself being bailed out of a financial crisis by a coalition of non-profit organizations. Trueheart and The Pittsburgh Foundation led the campaign, hosting emergency meetings and organizing details of the bail-out.

In just three years with The Pittsburgh Foundation, Trueheart had fulfilled the hopes he had expressed upon joining the organization. "I look forward to working with folks in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County communities, in the schools, in the colleges and universities, and with Pittsburgh leaders at every level," the New Pittsburgh Courier quoted him as saying. "I particularly look forward to working collaboratively with other foundations to better serve the citizens of Pennsylvania, and in doing so, the nation." Considering the successful innovations he has implemented so far—at Bryant College, Reading Is Fundamental, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and in the city of Pittsburgh—there is no reason to doubt that other cities and organizations nationwide will turn to Trueheart's programs for guidance and inspiration.



Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, March 17, 2002.

New Pittsburgh Courier, July 25, 2001.

PR Newswire, May 15, 2001; July 20, 2001.


"It's Not the RIF You Think You Know," National Education Association, www.nea.org/neatoday/0105/innov.html (October 28, 2004).

"Reading Something Into It, Bill Trueheart MPA 1973," Kennedy School of Government Bulletin, www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgpress/bulletin/spring2001/profiletrueheart.html (October 28, 2004).

"William E. Trueheart, President and CEO," The Pittsburgh Foundation, www.pittsburghfoundation.org/page11905.cfm (October 28, 2004).

—Candace LaBalle

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