HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Memorial services were held Wednesday for a Harrisburg resident many viewed as a civic leader for residents.
A celebratory atmosphere was felt inside Bethany AME Church in Allison Hill. Many wanted to honor the life of Oliver Boyd, who everyone called Mr. Boyd.
Gina Johnson Roberson joked during the service that many in attendance finally learned Mr. Boyd’s first name. Someone yelled out “Mister”.
The 66-year-old died from natural causes at a home in Williamsport, according to his obituary.
Boyd was known in many circles around Harrisburg as the outspoken man in the turban. He spoke five languages. He had seven children and eight grandchildren. Yet, his legacy to most will be his civic engagement.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse recalled many memories of Boyd reading inside the Midtown Scholar and “holding court,” as he described it. Papenfuse said Boyd always stared with dark eyes, an intimidating glare to hold powerful leaders accountable.
“I would walk in and he would say, ‘I’m watching you, Mayor. I’m watching you’,” he said.
Papenfuse, a community activist himself before being elected, appreciated Boyd’s dedication to every public meeting.
“There wasn’t a community meeting, a conversation that didn’t occur without Mr. Boyd coming and speaking his mind,” he said.
ABC27 archives of a 2012 Council meeting show Boyd challenging members on a tax plan.
“How could you ask that of the City of Harrisburg and their residents,” he forcibly asked.
Boyd, who many believe was homeless, was often an advocate for those in need. Leaders said he always asked more of the city to receive the best for all.
Harrisburg Public Works Director Aaron Johnson told how Boyd got a cell phone and called him in the middle of the night to press him on city matters.
“He was something else, man,” he said. “He kept you on your toes. He’s truly going to be missed.”
Boyd was often the first to speak his mind during public comments at City Council meetings. Council President Wanda Williams said his relentless passion led to some battles.
Les Ford used his time Tuesday night to honor Boyd.
“I’m going to talk about Mr. Boyd,” he said, “and I hope you will relax the two minute rule in memory of Mr. Boyd.”
While the confrontations were often, there was always a mutual respect between Boyd and city leaders. Papenfuse called him a “true patriot” for understanding the founding principle of American democracy is to engage and challenge the actions of its leaders.
A man everyone knew in Harrisburg, he was at the same time a man anyone barely knew. Boyd encouraged others to get involved, to vote, to speak up, to tell the truth.
With a tear in her eye, Wanda Williams said she will fondly miss those battles. She said goodbye with heartfelt, compassionate words.
“You walked the streets for the last time,” she said. “God knew you were tired, so he came and carried you the rest of the way.”