Those Who Serve: The Richardson Dilworth Award

Mayor Richardson Dilworth

Mayor Richardson Dilworth

“What is a leader?” This is the question that bothered Sam, an 8th grader at Conwell Middle School. Faced with everyday challenges in Kensington, Sam found himself obsessing over this question on his mile walk over to Rock to the Future. Then last week, Sam tried to answer the question for himself, committing it to paper:

“A leader is someone who is willing to sacrifice anything to help their friends. They won’t ever put their friends in danger. A leader doesn’t only help his friends, but also helps those around him. They are a truly kind person no matter their appearance. To sum it all up, a leader is someone who is willing to sacrifice everything to help others.”

When asked why he was inspired to do this, Sam said, “I wrote this because Rock to the Future made me want to be a leader, to be a better person.”

Rock to the Future is working to provide free access to music education for hundreds of our youth every year. Because of them, Sam has learned a valuable lesson about service and has the makings of a great public servant in the future.

I agree with Sam. To me, leadership and “great people” or “great employees” have always been about service, about sacrifice, about helping others. Great people are selfless, constantly striving to serve others. These kinds of people are incredibly valuable to an organization. Great people keep an organization running and serve it in a way that improves and sustains their organization (or city) into the future.

When great people serve in the public sector, their organization is better equipped to serve its constituents. While great people in the public sector certainly aren’t paid as much as in the private sector, their efforts positively impact the lives of the people they serve. More often than not, the people most positively impacted are those that are our most vulnerable. Excellence in that service should be recognized.

In 2011, Mayor Nutter established the Richardson Dilworth Award for Distinguished Public Service to recognize our government’s best people, those who have served the cityand its citizensin extraordinary ways. Named after former Mayor Richardson Dilworth, who served as the 91st Mayor of Philadelphia (1956-1962), the award symbolizes high values and performance in Philadelphia public service.


The Law Department’s Barbara Ash received the Richardson Dilworth Award in 2014

The hundreds of City employees that have been nominated for the Dilworth Award have helped transform city government into a modern, service-first organization, finding creative and effective ways to serve citizens. Past winners include Carlton Williams, then-Deputy Commissioner of the Streets Department; John Elfrey, Director of Operations in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities; and Barbara Ash, Chief Deputy Solicitor in the Law Department. These employees (and their fellow nominees) have transformed the city government so much, in fact, that the award has expanded beyond its “Distinguished Public Service” award to better represent the diverse accomplishments and priorities of our current city government. This year, the following awards are being offered:

● Richardson Dilworth Award for Distinguished Public Service
● Richardson Dilworth Award for Excellence in Customer Service (New)
● Richardson Dilworth Award for Innovation in Government (New)

The addition of these awards represents a shift in city government, an effort that would make former Mayor Dilworth proud.

Philadelphia’s city employees have taken the term “public service” to new heights, making Philadelphia a national leader in both government customer service and innovation. We have taken a customer-centric approach to governance and implemented sustainable innovation initiatives so the municipality can play a role in the city’s innovation ecosystem. Today’s city government strives to meet the current and future needs of Philadelphia. This is due to the exceptional service of our employees.

Supported by Dilworth Paxson, LLP and Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Dilworth Award provides City government with a rare opportunity to reward select employees for their extraordinary work. Not only will each winner’s name be memorialized on a plaque outside City Hall, the winner of the Distinguished Public Service Award receives $5,000 and the winners of the “Excellence in Customer Service” and “Innovation in Government” receive $1,000, among other prizes.

Today, let’s honor the exceptional city employee who has helped others and demonstrated excellence in service. Please take a moment to nominate a great public employee for the various Richardson Dilworth Awards. The deadline for nominations is November 14, 2014. More details and a nomination form can be found at

In a few years, I am sure we will all cast a vote for Sam the 8th grader, but, in the meantime, there is a public servant that deserves our recognition today. Thank you.

Rich headshot 1Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.


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