In 1973, Ruth Goode-White was chosen to head the newly developed Sickle Cell Society. At the time, the disease was a mystery, even among African Americans, who suffered from it most, and Mrs. White’s sensitivity carried the issues into the open.
Already in her 50s, Mrs. White took a storefront operation and in 15 years transformed it into the first comprehensive sickle cell facility in the country, where patients were screened, counseled and given genetic testing.
Along the way she called on people like K. Leroy Irvis, the state’s first black speaker of the House, who pioneered bipartisan legislation to pay for a physician and a laboratory at the Sickle Cell Society.
“She did it because she cared about people,” said Neddie Hollis, the society director who succeeded Mrs. White.”
“She never took no for an answer,” said Hollis. “She knew [battling] this disease required a strong person.”
Born in 1918, Mrs. White grew up the youngest of six children and joined her siblings as they blazed trails across the Pittsburgh business, media and social landscape. Her brother, Mal Goode, was one of the first black broadcasters to work for ABC-TV in New York. He once hosted a radio show with his sister, Mary Dee, a popular disc jockey and one of the first black women on Pittsburgh radio.
Another brother, William, owned several pharmacies, one in Homewood and two in the Hill District. In 1938, Mrs. White graduated from West Virginia State College with a degree in social work.
When she could not find a job, she worked for 20 years as the night manager at her brother’s pharmacy.
She was a half-century old when she went back to school, graduating with a master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh.
“I typed her papers,” said her daughter, Stephanie Phillips, of East Liberty. “She got good grades, too.”
Helping the less fortunate was a passion for Mrs. White. Before going to the Sickle Cell Society, she aided children in foster care.
At the Sickle Cell Society, Mrs. White was visionary. She used money earned from selling her brother’s drugstore and purchased property next door.
On that spot, she built the Murray-Irvis Genetic Disease Center, which housed the society.
By drawing on sports celebrities like Willie Stargell and Dwight Stone and corporate leaders, she paid off the group’s $250,000 mortgage in 10 years.
Mrs. White was winsome, charming folks with her bright smile, sweet potato pie and macaroni and cheese, but she was fearless.
There was no door she didn’t knock on, said Hollis. She was impressive for her zeal in finding patients transportation and getting them medicine.