Eleanor Eugenia Nelson Conrad, civil rights pioneer and longtime Dallas community activist, died June 27. She was 99.
Born on Feb. 14, 1924 in Champaign County, Illinois, Conrad spent her life dedicated to public service in education, social justice and the arts.
Conrad earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in home economics from the University of Illinois. After completing her undergraduate degree, she started teaching at Morris Brown College, a historically Black college in Atlanta.
She later met her husband, Dr. Emmett J. Conrad, at a cousin’s wedding in St. Louis. The two wed after in July 15, 1949. After years of teaching in the area, Eleanor Conrad moved with her husband to Dallas from Missouri in 1955. Their presence in the metroplex was known immediately.
“In 1956, Dr. Conrad became the first African American to serve on staff at St. Paul’s Hospital in Dallas. In 1980 he became the chief of staff leading more than 700 doctors,” said former Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson.
They were both active in civic and educational organizations for decades, making a major impact on K-12 schools and colleges across North Texas and the entire state.
“My mother was very engaged in activism and service to her community,” Cecilia Conrad recalled. “She has always been a role model for me in terms of her courage and commitment to do what was right … and her willingness to speak out against injustice.”
While her husband became the first Black member of the State Board of Education, Eleanor Conrad would also later serve on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas State Board of Education. She broke barrier too by becoming the first African American to serve as the foreman of a grand jury in Dallas County.
In 1993, Sen. Royce West established the Dr. Emmett J. Conrad Leadership Program, an internship program through a partnership with Paul Quinn College and the Texas Veterans Land Board to assist the college’s students in gaining employment experience. The program, now operated by UNT Dallas, honors the life and legacy of Conrad’s late husband. She supported the Conrad program since its induction.
She also was a member and enthusiastic supporter of the Dallas African American Museum, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Women’s Council of Dallas County, the NAACP and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
Eleanor Conrad is survived by her daughter Cecilia, CEO of Chicago-based Lever for Change and grandson Conrad Miller, his wife Shahrzad Zarafshar and their daughter Zara. She is also survived by sister Eunice Rivers and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews, including niece Ramona Suggs Winrow, her husband William Winrow, and grand-nephews William Winrow, Justin Winrow and Nelson Winrow.
Funeral services will be held July 22 at Smith Chapel AME Church in Dallas.