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Elsie Cross, she fought discrimination

ELSIE Y. CROSS' commitment to battling discrimination in all its ugly forms dated back to her years in the Philadelphia School District in the 1960s and '70s.

ELSIE Y. CROSS' commitment to battling discrimination in all its ugly forms dated back to her years in the Philadelphia School District in the 1960s and '70s.

After her experience as a teacher and administrator fighting racial problems in the school system, she saw that she could extend that commitment to the corporate world.

That was the beginning of Elsie Y. Cross Associates, a company that for more than 35 years has been advising corporations, large and small, about the importance of diversity in the workplace and conducting training programs to acquaint executives with ways to deal with it.

"She was a visionary," said her son, Barry R. Cross Jr., president and chief executive officer of the company. "She was dedicated to ameliorating oppression in this country, and she felt she could do it in her lifetime."

Elsie Cross died Dec. 7 of a heart attack. She was 81 and lived in Mount Airy.

She was born in Philadelphia to Daniel Yancy, who operated a funeral home at 21st and Diamond streets, and Mary Skidmore.

Elsie graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1946 and went on to Temple University, where she received a bachelor of science degree in 1949, and where she later earned two master's degrees, in business administration and psycho-education.

She began her career as a teacher at William Penn High School for Girls. She became active in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, serving as vice president and as a member of the contract-negotiating committee.

She later was an administrator in the School District's Office of Inter-Group and Integration.

In 1968, she was one of 11 people appointed by the Board of Education to find ways to reduce racial tension in the schools and to foster integration.

When U.S. District Judge Joseph S. Lord III ordered the school board to make sweeping changes in educational programs or face a receivership in 1975, Elsie Cross was named as the potential receiver who would take over the administration of $30 million in Title 1 funds.

She never had to fill that role, but the fact that she was named was indicative of the high regard in which she was held. She was described as "honest, not afraid of the school district - someone who won't buckle."

She also was the author of a controversial plan in 1967 to integrate the faculties of 50 of 120 district schools by the transfer of teachers and other means.

Elsie was a pioneer in the diversity-consulting field when she started her firm in 1977. Other companies offering similar services have since emerged.

Her son said the consultants evaluate a company's needs, then meet with executives to devise a plan of action. Problems might exist in the realms of relations regarding race, ethnicity, gender, generation, religion and sexual orientation.

"Sometimes a company wants to avoid problems by being prepared in advance," her son said.

Elsie Cross was former chair of the National Training Laboratories Institute for Applied Behavorial Science, on the board of directors and founding member of the women's subgroup of the Organization Development Network and advisory board member of the Poynter Institute.

She is the author of "Managing Diversity - The Courage to Lead." She was the publisher of The Language Guide, and founded the Diversity Factory, a quarterly e-journal.

"She was extremely bright and very energetic," her son said. "And she was a great mom, very family- oriented."

She also is survived by a stepson, Kevin Cross; a sister, Muriel Allison; a brother, William Yancy, and two grandchildren. Her longtime companion, Samuel Romans, died in April. She was divorced from her husband, Barry B. Cross, who died in 1982.

Services: Memorial service during the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (Jan. 15) at a time and place to be determined.

Donations may be made to the NTL Institute for a scholarship in her name at 1801 S. Bell St., Suite 300, Arlington VA 22202.