In the dust-up that followed Earl Mallick’s resignation from the Hilton Head Island Town Council, he was called either a quitter or a man of great principle.
That episode 17 years ago was seen as a dramatic moment in the island’s ongoing rift between residential and commercial interests, and the public’s direct role in Town Hall decisions.
Today, in the wake of Mallick’s death Sept. 6 in Fort Myers, Fla., at age 91, he is remembered for his passion by the man who replaced him on council, George Williams.
Mallick was elected to three two-year terms in Ward 5 in Sea Pines.
But he resigned after serving five years when Town Council reversed itself on a resolution to put tax increment financing spending to a public vote.
In a memo to his colleagues, Mallick said “abandoning” the referendum “dishonors the council” in a way that he could not “stomach.”
“I suppose that the thought is that a referendum may not pass,” Mallick wrote. “It seems to me that that has caused this joint effort to scuttle the referendum. The fact is that the council is afraid to let the public vote and wants to thwart the will of the public even if it means breaking its pledge to them.”
When council voted against holding the referendum, Mallick resigned, just as he said he would.
He said he would miss being in government and regretted not having as much influence on public policy as he thought he might.
“I like haggling,” he told The Island Packet at the time. “I like arguing for what I think is right. I don’t mind being in the minority as long as I think I’m doing right.”
Mallick said he believed the council often had failed to consider the concerns of residents over commercial interests when making decisions, especially in regard to zoning.
“I’ve been pretty much a failure in trying to protect people,” he said.
He also advocated for a police department to replace the town’s contract for that service with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, which remains in place.
“How do you force a sheriff to comply with the contract?” Mallick asked. “If we get a bad sheriff, we’re in bad trouble. If we have a good sheriff, the town still doesn’t have the control it ought to have.”
Outside Town Council, Mallick was known for a magic show he did for children along with his late wife, Evelyn.
He also was known as a leader in the Presbyterian church, and president of a South Beach homeowners’ association.
But few talked about his accomplishments before retiring to Hilton Head in the early 1990s.
He was a native of Pittsburgh who enrolled in a Navy program that sent him through Northwestern University to get a degree in electrical engineering. He then worked his way through Harvard Law School.
He took a job in the law department at U.S. Steel in 1949 and a news story about his death in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week said that for nearly three decades he helped lead the corporation. He retired in 1991 as vice president for public affairs, working in Washington, D.C.
The newspaper cited Mallick’s candor as a factor in his rise through the company.
It mentions his role in the turbulent civil rights era while serving as U.S. Steel vice president-South in Birmingham, Ala. The story says:
“Mallick was willing to speak directly with civil rights leaders and took a more active role in facilitating the changes in the city,” Judith Stein wrote in her book “Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism.”
Later, he was put in the sticky position of heading environmental control for U.S. Steel. The Post-Gazette reports:
“Another book, ‘The Corporation: A Centennial Biography of United States Steel Corporation, 1901-2001,’ depicted Mallick as a human tennis ball — batted about by environmental interests and corporate headquarters.”
Yet, his son Craig Mallick told the Post-Gazette, Mallick maintained a forthright relationship with Pittsburgh’s leading environmental activist.
“He always put everybody first,” Craig Mallick told the newspaper. “He felt a sense of responsibility to his community, to his family, to his country.”