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James J. Duffin, 88, social activist who led Phila. Housing Development Corp.

James J. Duffin, 88, of East Mount Airy, a Philadelphia housing advocate and orchid grower, died Saturday, Nov. 26, of congestive heart failure at home.

James J. Duffin, 88, of East Mount Airy, a Philadelphia housing advocate and orchid grower, died Saturday, Nov. 26, of congestive heart failure at home.

Mr. Duffin was the chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. from 1977 until retiring in 1983.

He joined the agency at its inception in 1966 and helped implement a program to rehabilitate buildings and provide new homes in low- and moderate-income areas of the city.

Born to John J. Duffin and Helen R. O'Neill in 1928, he grew up in Oxford Circle. He attended Northeast Catholic High School, where he joined the Falcon Flyers Club.

"He loved to say how he had a pilot's license before he had a driver's license," said son James M.

After graduating from high school, he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1950 from St. Joseph's University. While there, he joined the student branch of Americans for Democratic Action, a progressive group.

Mr. Duffin welcomed international students - a pattern he followed throughout his life. His college activities earned him membership in Alpha Sigma Nu, a national Jesuit college honor society.

Mr. Duffin's first passion was housing. After two years in the Army, and a stint running his family's stone work and excavation business, he joined the Federal Housing Administration in 1955.

As a construction analyst, he compiled cost data for single homes and large projects including Society Hill Towers and Hopkinson House. The data were used to calculate how much the administration would underwrite in its mortgages.

Mr. Duffin felt drawn to social issues as well as the practical details of housing. From 1954 to 1961, he served on the Philadelphia Catholic Housing Council, a group that campaigned against public-housing rules discriminating against large families.

He attended the 1963 March on Washington. From 1965 to 1968 he was an officer of the Catholic Community Relations Council, which sought to promote racial and ethnic harmony. That led to his appointment to the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations in 1974.

When Mr. Duffin joined the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. in 1966, he brought his social activism to the job. Instead of urban renewal, which called for razing homes and constructing high-rises for the poor, he fixed up rowhouses as a better alternative.

Mr. Duffin became acting general manager in 1972 and director of operations in 1974. He retired in 1983, following a heart attack.

In retirement, he served on the board of the Lutheran Housing and Development Corp. and on the Housing and Education Committee of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Orchids were Mr. Duffin's second passion, which he shared with his wife, Lois M. Seifert. He developed such a keen knowledge of the plants that he won awards for his entries at the New York Orchid Show and the Philadelphia Flower Show.

"He loved participating in the orchid shows and interacting with people and talking about the plants," his son said.

Besides his wife of 59 years and his son, he is survived by children Josefa M., Angela, Neil, and Sean D; a grandson; three sisters; and two brothers. A son, Martin, died earlier.

Family and friends may call at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, 140 E. Mount Airy Ave. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11 a.m. Interment will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Donations may be made to Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia via, or Camilla Hall Nursing Home, 1145 W. King Rd., Malvern, Pa. 19355.