by Joe RADDER
Growing up in the Kensington housing project wasnt easy for Ellen Grant. Racism
was much more open in those days and some bigoted white neighbors petitioned to have the
Grants evicted for no reason other than color. Fortunately, most of their white neighbors
saw that the Grants were trying to do something for their children by preparing them to
live in the majority culture. They knew too that Ellens dad was a hard-working
citizen who commuted daily to Bethlehem Steel and that children in the family went to the
nearby Bethany Lutheran Church every Sunday. And so the petition failed.
Little did Ellen Grant know then what life had in store for her. She began as a
practical nurse at the Erie County Medical Center, where she found a career love of
working with the disabled. Continuing her education simultaneously, Ellen Grant soon
earned a bachelors degree in sociology at the State University of Buffalo. By 1974
she had a Masters degree in social work and by 1979 she had earned her doctorate in
communication and organizational behavior.
Along the way, Ellen met and fell in love with George Bishop Jr., a businessman retired
from the U.S. Navy. He is now vice president of the Naval League, Buffalo Division, and
recently served as vice president of the Naval and Service Park. Bishop has also served on
the executive committee of the Greater Buffalo Partnership, on the board of directors at
Blue Shield and several other boards.
Son Justin, husband George and Ellen, 1997.
When asked what she considers to be the greatest of all her accomplishments over the
past 30 years, Dr. Bishop said, Other people may say I have done a good job serving
the community, but I think my success has to be measured first as the job I have done as a
Mom. The Bishops son Justin is now age 13 and is in the 8th grade at the
One of the most interesting things Dr. Bishop told Living Prime Time was: Early
on I was able to get over all that negative stuff about being black in a white
community. Indeed her views on this subject have helped her be a better Mom and more
focused on her successes.
Her particular interest in children led Dr. Bishop to establish the Childrens
Enhancement Program. With the New York State Office of Mental Health, she developed an
intensive case management program for the seriously and emotionally disturbed child and
adult. In 1988 she was instrumental in providing in-patient psychiatric facilities for
children at the Erie County Medical Center.
Ellen and her brother Herman, 1951.
Demonstrating her strong belief that education is the key to growth for the
underprivileged, Ellen Grant Bishop worked closely last year with Dr. Keith Weller Frome,
headmaster at the Elmwood-Franklin School, to bring the College Summit concept to Buffalo.
This is a program that helps high school students with low test scores write their college
entrance essays, fill out financial aid forms, and complete college admissions
applications. Students are also advised on compiling a list of schools in which they are
interested and where they are most likely to be admitted. 200 students have participated
in the College Summit programs to date, 45 of them in the first Buffalo summit last year
at Medaille College. According to Frome, 90% (of these) have been admitted to the
college of their choice.
Speaking to the 1996 graduates of Medaille College, where she was awarded an honorary
doctorate in humane letters, Dr. Bishop said, Just because you havent been
there before doesnt mean you shouldnt attempt the journey. In that same
address, she advised the students on the importance of working together, So we all
can walk as one.
Reading through Dr. Bishops resume, one is in awe and wonders how any one person
could accomplish so much in just three decades. Coming from licensed practical nurse at
the Erie County Medical Center in 1968 to Commissioner of Mental Health for the County of
Erie at the present time, she has held human service positions at the Buffalo Psychiatric
Center and the Buffalo General Hospital, ranging from social worker to administrator. She
was the first black Civil Service Examiner for New York State, a Clinical Instructor at
the UB School of Medicine, an instructor in the New York State School of Labor Relations
in the Buffalo Extension Program of Cornell University and served as an assistant
Professor at DYouville College. She is a member of numerous boards including the
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Conference for Community Justice, and the
University at Buffalo Foundation. In 1996-1997 Dr. Bishop was president of the New York
State Association of Counties. She was appointed to serve on this board by Dennis Gorski
to represent him.
Ellen and her sister Brenda, 1958.
Dr. Bishop has been published several times, including a book titled Managing in
Black and White, a Guide for the Professional Woman of Color, a chapter in
Self Marketing Skills for the Administrator and articles in professional
Ellen Grant Bishops list of awards fills an entire page and includes the Social
Worker of the Year Award of the New York State Chapter, National Association of Social
Workers and the Nelson Mandela Community Service Award by the New York State Black
As Commissioner of Mental Health for the County of Erie, Dr. Bishop has another long
list of accomplishments, not the least of which was saving the county $1.5 million shortly
after she accepted the Commissioners position in 1988. This was done by putting
transportation contracts out for bid. Additionally, she undertook the development of a
joint alcohol/substance abuse plan for all multi-disciplinary agencies working in the
In 1992, Ellen Grant Bishop helped to persuade the Erie County Legislature to establish
a Mental Health Committee and she supervised the creation of an educational video titled
Mending Shattered Families.
Always concerned with minorities inaccessibility to services, Dr. Bishop expanded
the Countys disability service to the Hispanic and Native American communities as
well as the black community.
She considers herself fortunate, as an administrator, to have such an excellent and
hard-working staff and she cites her boss, County Executive Dennis Gorski, as a role
model. Dr. Bishop considers him to be the most disciplined leader she has ever met.
In 1996, Dr. Bishop was named a Fellow in the International Womens Forum
Leadership Foundation, a landmark program designed to help women expand their leadership
skills. She was one of only twelve women chosen world-wide. In this program she
participated in a year-long leadership training program at the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University. Susan Greenwood, president of the IWF Leadership
Foundation said, The Fellows program, now in its third year, has truly attracted the
brightest and the best of our women leaders.
Ellen Grant Bishop being sworn in by Dennis Gorski, 1996.
Sam Hoyt, Assemblyman, with Ellen Grant Bishop at the White House, 1996.
She has mentored many young Buffalonians, male and female, white and black, in her
quest to enrich the entire Western New York citizenry. Ellen Grant Bishops life is
not all work-work-work, however. An avid runner, she participated this past September in
Women Run New York, a statewide marathon celebrating the achievements of women since the
first Womens Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1848. She also enjoys traveling.
She has been to China, Peru, Egypt, Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand among others.
Asked to sum up her philosophy of life in a few words, Dr. Ellen Grant Bishop said,
I just think you have to be motivated to emphasize service to others and a holistic
approach to work, personal development and shared decision-making. This philosophy,
called servant leadership, was first brought to her attention in the early 1970s by Robert
Greenleaf, a corporate officer at AT&T.
Is Western New York lucky to have Ellen Grant Bishop as one of its leading citizens?
Joe Radder is a writer for Living Prime Time.
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