Focus: HOPE co-founder Eleanor Josaitis dies at 79

August 9, 2011 - 7:59 AM
Obit Josaitis

FILE - In a Nov. 25, 2003 file photo Detroit Lions defensive lineman Robert Porcher, left, is introduced by Eleanor Josaitis during his sixth annual turkey distribution to needy families in Detroit. Josaitis, a community leader who co-founded the social services organization Focus: HOPE died Tuesday Aug. 9, 2011.(AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

DETROIT (AP) — Eleanor Josaitis, a community leader who co-founded the social services organization Focus: HOPE in the wake of Detroit's 1967 riots, died Tuesday. She was 79.

Josaitis died at Angela Hospice in Livonia after being diagnosed last year with peritoneal cancer, son Mark Josaitis told The Associated Press. She had undergone chemotherapy and was weakened by cancer, he said, and also had broken her hip during a fall.

Eleanor Josaitis and the Rev. William Cunningham founded Focus: HOPE in 1968 after the race riots that widened a rift between Detroit's black and white residents. The group offers job training, as well as food programs for the poor and elderly. Cunningham died in 1997.

"She really believed in human dignity and helping people develop skills to be proud of," Mark Josaitis said.

Josaitis became a civil rights activist after watching a televised report on violence against civil rights marchers in Alabama in 1963, according to Focus: HOPE. She served as CEO of the group for nine years after Cunningham's death, and remained active in its work.

"Her kindness was so genuine and she didn't hold it back from anybody," Mark Josaitis said.

Survivors include Josaitis' husband of 55 years, Donald. The couple had five children and several grandchildren.

Details of funeral arrangements were expected to be released later Tuesday. Visitation was planned at Church of the Madonna, Cunningham's former parish in Detroit, Mark Josaitis said. A funeral was expected to be held at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.