Pittsburgh Charity Lauded for History of Helping Those in Need

By Robbins, Richard | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Pittsburgh Charity Lauded for History of Helping Those in Need


Robbins, Richard, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


He was a youngster in 1958, the year the Brother's Brother Foundation was founded by his father, a world famous anesthesiologist from Cleveland. But one memory from that period brings tears to his eyes.

Luke Hingson, for all of his experience in third-world politics and charity-giving, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and nothing seems to move him as deeply as recalling the time his father, Robert Hingson, pushed back against bigotry in his native Alabama.

Luke Hingson, a bespectacled teddy bear of a man with curly gray hair and a quiet yet engaging manner, explains that his father gathered a delegation for a trip to Africa -- an early excursion in the illustrious 50-year history of Brother's Brother, a trip designed to bring the wonders of medical inoculation to a land and people just then emerging from decades of oppressive colonial rule.

One of the distinguished group of scientists and doctors asked to go along was the president of the hospital at Tuskegee Institute, the famous all-black academy in segregationist Alabama. When word leaked of the invitation, which had been personally tendered by Robert Hingson, all hell broke lose.

Regardless of his lofty credentials, Dr. Eugene Dibble was not fit to carry the banner of American goodwill to the people of Africa -- or so critics complained. The group that had offered to finance the trip -- to the tune of $10,000 -- began to make noises that it might bow out.

Finally, an ultimatum was issued: Either the president of Tuskegee hospital was shown the door, or the cash for the trip would be withdrawn.

"It was a different time in America," Luke Hingson, 55, explains, sitting in the third-floor conference room of a converted North Side pipe plant, the combination warehouse-office headquarters of the Brother's Brother Foundation of Pittsburgh. Black Americans were regularly dismissed as second-class citizens during the 1950s, and the civil rights movement had yet to take hold -- all of which might have lead Robert Hingson to disinvite the Tuskegee doctor and take the cash.

The critics didn't know Robert Hingson. Hingson, a man who wanted to represent the best of America, found a replacement donor. The trip went forward, as evidenced by a grainy black-and-white newspaper photograph featuring Hingson and Dibble just before their departure to Liberia.

Luke Hingson's voice quivered as he spoke of the incident and looked at the photograph.

"I think my father did the right thing," he says.

On a wall in the conference room high above Galveston Avenue hangs a photo of Robert Hingson and other Americans alongside Albert Schweitzer -- the renowned philosopher, physician and humanitarian of equatorial Africa.

"That about says it all," Luke Hingson says, a note of triumph in his voice.

Model organization

The Brother's Brother Foundation is, by most accounts, the most efficient, low-cost charitable outfit in America, if not the world.

Transferred from Cleveland to Pittsburgh in 1968, when the elder Hingson took a position at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, the staff of 13 continues to gather accolades. The latest, from Forbes Magazine, praises Brother's Brother for its "charitable commitment," calling attention to its low salaries (Hingson earns $113,400 a year -- "half what counterparts at some comparable nonprofits" receive, the magazine commented) and its ratio of charitable giving to expenses.

For six years running, Forbes has given Brother's Brother a perfect score in the categories of fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment.

Brother's Brother also has been recognized by the Better Business Bureau, Nonprofit Times, Chronicles of Philanthropy (which ranked it the ninth largest charity in the United States in 2006) and Web- based Charity Navigator.

For four years in a row, Charity Navigator has given Brother's Brother Foundation its highest Four-Star rating. …

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