Philadelphia civic leader Madeline Arrington who helped tulips bloom in Mantua, dies at 78


Madeline Arrington, 78, an affordable housing activist and board member of the Mantoua Civic Association which led the annual Bulbs not Bullets anti-violence tulip planting program, died Saturday October 2 from cancer of the pancreas at the Penn Hospice in Rittenhouse in Philadelphia.

She also helped establish the Mantua Urban Peace Garden in the neighborhood just north of Drexel University in West Philadelphia.

And she persuaded the designers at Mural Arts Philadelphia to include thousands of tulips on the latest Spring Garden Bridge mural, “Sing Because It Is Heard” by artist Betsy Casaña, her daughter Sheila Morrison-Wesley said.

“The floral fresco with more than 6,000 tulips is a historical symbol of growth and development in Mantua”, according to a description through the wall arts.

“Our community-wide tulip plantation was part of Madeline’s job as chairman of the enrichment committee,” said Gwendolyn Morris, secretary of the Mantua Civic Association. “She was focusing on how to enrich the community’s environment, not just beautify it.”

In 2017, Generocity, a social impact news and events organization, recognized Ms. Arrington among its inaugural group of “7over70”, as “impact leaders” in Philadelphia.

He described her as a “tireless and enthusiastic advocate for justice” and mentioned one program in particular, “Walk Age-Friendly Mantua,” a volunteer-led community walk audit.

Ms Arrington owned a housing consultancy firm, Housing Matters, and worked as a consultant to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, ensuring that federally funded home renovations were completed to standards.

Her long and varied career has also included working as a fashion designer who previously lived and studied in Paris, and teaching construction.

She previously worked for Tradeswomen Of Purpose / Women In Non-Traditional Work, Inc., or TOP / WIN, teaching women construction skills so that they could find employment in jobs that were traditionally seen as work for men. Women became carpenters, plumbers, electricians and forklift operators, Morrison-Wesley said.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Ms. Arrington worked as a field inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While working for Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services, she helped homeowners in the communities of Cobbs Creek and Carroll Park apply for loans and grants to repair their homes.

“She was really passionate about housing and making sure that families that had been part of Mantua for a long time were not overlooked” as new developments came along, said Morrison-Wesley.

Madeline Collins Arrington was born August 30, 1943 in Philadelphia, the only daughter of Julian Collins and Ola Johnson Collins. They raised her in Mantua with the younger brother and sister of Ola Collins, Lewis and Bernice Johnson, after the death of their mother.

Growing up, she was known as “crazy” by her family and friends and attended St. Ignatius Catholic School in West Philadelphia.

She graduated in 1961 from St. Francis de Sales School in Powhatan County, Virginia, a boarding school established for black and Native American girls by St. Katharine Drexel and her family.

After high school, she returned to Philadelphia and attended Cheyney University, but did not graduate. She worked for Conrail for many years and had two daughters and a brief marriage to Edgar Arrington which ended in divorce.

All the while, she saved her money to eventually pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. She attended Parson’s School of Design in Paris in 1982, then created her own label and her own designs.

For a while she moved to New Jersey and got a real estate license.

In 1988, however, Ms Arrington was arrested and incarcerated for over a year after illegal drugs were discovered in her car, Morrison-Wesley said.

Morrison-Wesley said her mother maintained the drugs did not belong to her and that years later her case was struck off.

Her daughter said she spoke about her time in prison because it was there that she first learned construction skills, receiving certificates in carpentry, electrical and plumbing. After her release, she lived in transitional housing and obtained a university degree in construction technology from Community College of Philadelphia.

“I think it’s good to talk about getting people back,” Morrison-Wesley said. “She managed to overcome it. Sometimes people don’t know about your struggles. They see you are great, but they don’t know the story behind the passion and commitment she had. It had a lot to do with the fact that we were living in transitional housing after he was released from prison. “

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Arrington is survived by her mother; another daughter, Kendall Thomas; four grandchildren; and many other relatives and friends.

A visitation will be held from 8 am to 10 am on Saturday, October 16 at St. Ignatius Church, 636 N. 43rd St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104. A funeral mass will follow at 10 am, with interment in the Old Cathedral Cemetery , in Philadelphia.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to Tulip Planters Tribute to Madeline Arrington, Mantua Civic Association, PO Box 7701, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

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