2017 Person of the Year: Eleanor Lingo

Eleanor Lingo tends to see the good in people. In fact, she looks for it.

She’ll stop and talk to anyone because maybe they need help, or maybe they’re lonely and just need a “Hello, how are you?” to get through the day.

“I guess this is what I enjoy doing, and this is what I do,” Ms. Lingo said in August after she was honored as Suffolk County’s Senior Citizen of the Year. “I love people; whenever I can help with someone I’ll only be too glad to help them.”

The county’s distinction recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to his or her community, whether as an advocate, role model, volunteer or leader. County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement about the award that Ms. Lingo’s kindness, compassion and commitment to helping others demonstrates “how ordinary residents can have an extraordinary impact in touching the lives of others.”

Ms. Lingo has also been noted as a trailblazer for African-American women on the East End.

The Suffolk Times reaffirms the recognition she has already received by choosing Eleanor Lingo as its Person of the Year for 2017.

Ms. Lingo has been involved in Southold Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force since its inception in the 1990s, according to current co-chair Valerie Shelby. The group works to address intolerance against anyone because of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

Task force co-chair Sonia Spar called her a role model and someone who does not “let life pass by without taking any action.”

Ms. Lingo made strides toward diversity in her own professional life, as well. When she entered the workforce, she found on several occasions that she was the first woman of color to hold down the jobs she obtained. Those included working on the sales floor at F.W. Woolworth in Bridgeport, Conn., after graduating from Southold High School in 1944, as well as landing a job in the business office at Eastern Long Island Hospital when she returned to the North Fork in 1954.

“Every job I that I had, I was breaking a color line,” she said in August.

Born and raised in Southold at a time when there were few African-American families in town, Ms. Lingo said she didn’t notice a color barrier growing up because her grandfather made it clear they were no different from anyone else.

The importance of education, paired with her affinity for working with numbers and achieving perfection, are points Ms. Lingo brings up when speaking to children about how she was able to achieve that success. She would encourage them by saying that “you never know who’s watching or what’s going on, so do the best you can.”

Her interest in community involvement can be traced back to her parents. Her father, Thomas, was a founder of Shiloh Baptist Church in Southold and her mother, Anna, was active in the Parent Teacher Association. In addition to the Anti-Bias Task Force, Ms. Lingo is active with Community Action Southold Town and the town’s senior services.

Ms. Lingo’s acts of kindness have made headlines before, documenting what is perhaps her signature good deed: placing a holiday wreath on the grave of a slave woman at the Old Burying Ground in Southold each December. This tradition was born out of her curiosity about a small headstone she remembered passing on the way to school as a girl. But years later, she could not locate the brown stone bearing the name “Bloom” until it was revealed that it had been covered over the years.

“I was shocked and very happy that this was one of the people of color, because being in Southold Town when I was a little girl there were few Afro-American families here,” she said. “Me decorating this grave — it was like a part of my family.”

Her niece Lizette Malone will carry on the tradition.

“I want to keep going for my aunt’s legacy,” Ms. Malone said, describing Ms. Lingo as a true believer in God and someone who will give whatever she has to help others.

“At age 91, if I can do all the things that she does as a volunteer, I would love to be in her health and still give back to the community,” Ms. Malone said.

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Previous Winners

2016: Charles Reichert
2015: Kait’s Angels
2014: Jeff Heidtmann
2013: David Gamberg and Michael Comanda
2012: Southold Emergency Response Team
2011: Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh
2010: Scott Russell
2009: Ryan Creighton
2008: North Fork NJROTC
2007: Maureen’s haven
2006: Southold Town Animal Shelter
2005: Ronnie Wacker
2004: Josh Horton
2003: Regina Maris Crew
2002: Colin Van Tuyl
2001: Frank LePré
2000: Ellie Hall
1999: Sister Margaret Smyth
1998: Reverend Lynda Clements
1997: Tim Caufield
1996: Dr. Micah Kaplan
1995: David Kappell
1994: Bob Levy
1993: Walter Dohm
1992: Reverend Summers
1991: Planning Conference
1990: 350th Committee
1989: Lynne Richards
1988: Franklin Bear
1987: Linda Graham