Doris Topsy-Elvord, the first Black councilwoman elected in Long Beach, dies at 90

Doris Topsy-Elvord, the first African American woman to serve on the Long Beach City Council, died Wednesday morning. She was 90.

Topsy-Elvord, who had a long career in public service, was elected in 1992 to represent the city’s 6th Council district in Central Long Beach. After being selected unanimously by her colleagues twice to serve as vice mayor, she was termed out in 2000.

Topsy-Elvord was “a legend for Long Beach,” said Carl Kemp, who was a close friend of the former councilwoman. “She paved the way for women. She paved the way for Black people. She paved the way for Black women.”

“At every post she had she went above and beyond to help people,” Kemp said. “She gave everything.”

“Mother Doris was a very special figure in Long Beach,” said 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson. “We called her ‘Mother’ as a term of endearment because she took all of us under her wing.

Richardson met Topsy-Elvord when he was a staff member for then-9th District Councilman Steve Neal and was an aspiring politician. “I would sit on her couch and listen to her stories as the only person of color on the council. Mother Doris always knew what was going on in the city well after her years of service. She continued to be a tremendous figure in our city.”

Born on June 17, 1931, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Topsy-Elvord moved with her family to Long Beach in 1942. She graduated from St. Anthony High School in 1949 and later attended UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social welfare. She went on to Chapman College in 1981, where she earned a master’s degree in criminal justice.

Topsy-Elvord worked for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine.

She later cofounded the African American Heritage Society, and received a number of service awards and recognition over the years, including being named Woman of the Year in 1994 by California State Senator Ralph Dills.

This year the City Council named the community center at Houghton Park after Topsy-Elvord due to her long record of service in the city.

“The theme was ‘Shower Mother Doris with Flowers,'” said Richardson of the ceremonial opening of the center. “I think it’s important to recognize our leaders, our loved ones while they’re here to enjoy it.”

She is survived by her husband Ralph Elvord, and had three sons.

Staff writer Jason Ruiz contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to include quotes from Councilman Rex Richardson.

Park, community center renamed after longtime North Long Beach leaders

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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