West Chester’s Centenarian Luminary, Dr. Clifford DeBaptiste, Honored by Representative Chrissy Houlahan

Houlahan Honors West Chester's First Black MayorSubmitted Image

WEST CHESTER, PA — As Black History Month unfolds, a beacon of West Chester’s community, Dr. Clifford DeBaptiste, was honored this week with a heartfelt speech on the House floor by Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). Approaching his 100th birthday this May, DeBaptiste’s extraordinary life and decades of service to West Chester and its surrounding areas were recognized and celebrated.

Houlahan’s tribute traced DeBaptiste’s journey from his youth in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, and the Atlantic City area of New Jersey, to his service in the Army from 1951 to 1954, where he rose to the rank of sergeant major. After military service, DeBaptiste moved to West Chester with his wife, Inez, and their daughters, Lillian, Inez, and Celeste.

Earning degrees from West Chester University and Lincoln University, the first degree-granting Historically Black College or University (HBCU), DeBaptiste made a significant impact on the local business scene. Alongside his wife, he established several funeral homes under the banner of DeBaptiste Funeral Homes, Inc., which at its peak boasted six locations and currently maintains two, one in West Chester and another in Bryn Mawr.

During his entrepreneurial journey, DeBaptiste served an impressive 13 terms as chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors. His leadership extended to numerous local boards, including the West Chester University Board of Trustees and the board of the First National Bank of West Chester.

In 1994, DeBaptiste etched his name into the annals of West Chester history by becoming its first Black mayor. During his tenure, he spearheaded the revitalization of the borough’s downtown, sparking significant growth for local businesses. The number of restaurants in the borough soared from 15 to 57 under his leadership, transforming West Chester into a bustling hub of culinary delights.

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Since retiring from public office, DeBaptiste has remained a vibrant and influential figure in the community. His daughter, Lillian, has continued his legacy by serving as the current mayor of West Chester.

DeBaptiste’s influence is evident throughout West Chester. A plaza at West Chester University bears his name, as does a lecture series and a residential street known as “DeBaptiste Lane.” His contributions to the community have been recognized multiple times, including when he was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the West Chester Chamber of Commerce in 1984.

In recognition of his remarkable contributions, DeBaptiste has received honorary doctorates from both West Chester University and Lincoln University, further solidifying his status as a cherished figure in the community.

Representative Houlahan’s tribute to DeBaptiste highlights his enduring impact on West Chester. As he approaches his centenary, the community continues to celebrate his contributions and his unwavering dedication to service. “Thank you and I yield back,” concluded Houlahan, leaving an indelible mark on the House floor and a lasting tribute to a man who has dedicated his life to the service of others.

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