Robert W. Sorrell, 76, a former president of the Urban League of Philadelphia, died Tuesday, Aug. 27, of natural causes at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1978, Mr. Sorrell became president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, a role he held for 24 years until 2002. He launched several initiatives during his tenure, including Philadelphia’s first citywide child-care administrative program, which served more than 4,000 families and provided $14 million for subsidized child care, according to a news release. The program was eventually expanded statewide.
Mr. Sorrell also established the State of Black Philadelphia Report, an annual assessment of issues facing the city, and a leadership training program, now called the Urban Leadership Forum, that has benefited 500 participants since 1988. Notable graduates include former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Hughes.
“He had a commitment to helping people. He had a commitment to giving back,” said Jean Taylor, Mr. Sorrell’s partner for 38 years. “He always had a vision to help others.”
Mr. Sorrell, of Elkins Park, was born June 14, 1943, in Detroit to Josephine and James Sorrell. He attended Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., where he earned his bachelor of science degree, played basketball, and was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He received his master’s degree from the H. John Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
He began his career as a math teacher and basketball coach in Cleveland. He was deputy executive director at the Urban League of Pittsburgh for five years before becoming president of the Urban League of Philadelphia.
After retiring as president in 2002, Mr. Sorrell started a diversity and fund-raising consulting business, R.W. Sorrell Enterprises LLC. In 2006, he created the Robert W. Sorrell Scholarship Fund, which gives students $3,000 annual college scholarships for four years, plus a paid summer internship through a partnership with Independence Blue Cross. The fund’s mission is to to further the education of minority, poor, and under-served children. It has given scholarships and internships to 27 students so far.
In a statement, Nutter said the scholarship fund would “continue Bob’s legacy of community service for years and generations to come.”
Mr. Sorrell has served on the boards of directors at Independence Blue Cross, the M&T Bank Regional Advisory Committee, and the Benedict College National Alumni Association, among others.
“I am constantly inspired by Bob Sorrell’s commitment to the community and its young people," Daniel J. Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, said in a statement. "He has always emphasized the importance of education and encouraged those around him to excel.”
In addition to his companion Taylor, Mr. Sorrell is survived by his son, Rodric, a sister, and four grandchildren.