At 82, neighborhood gadfly still can't walk by a candy wrapper

August 08, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Eighty-two-year-old Charles Elliott doesn't swallow the word "no" easily.

"When he's exhausted all efforts, he shows up at my office and he'll sit there and I know it's something bothering Charlie Elliott," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat.

Mr. Jimeno has known Mr. Elliott, president of the Brooklyn Heights Improvement Association, for 20 years.

Anything from a trash bin to a zoning concern is enough to draw a personal visit from Mr. Elliott, he said.

Without Mr. Elliott's efforts to solve problems in Brooklyn Heights, Mr. Jimeno said, his workload in the northern Anne Arundel community would increase by 20 percent.

Mr. Elliott and his wife, Hilda, moved to the 300 block of Hillcrest Ave. 43 years ago. They have watched as, one by one, homeowners in the community have moved out and investors have bought the properties, turning them into rental units.

For several years Mr. Elliott has walked the streets and alleyways, picking up discarded bits of paper, cigarette butts, old car parts, making sure dump truck workers pick up old furniture piled up in alleys and, sometimes, on front lawns.

Some say he's fighting a losing battle. But he doesn't stop.

He said he wants to keep the area the way it was before the investors came.

"You see [trash] and you get disgusted looking at it, so you might as well pick it up," said Mr. Elliott, who grew up in South Baltimore.

His wife, Hilda, said, "You know what I tell him, 'If you didn't go through the alleys, you wouldn't see it.' "

Two heart bypass surgeries and warnings from doctors to relax have done nothing to slow Mr. Elliott.

"He's still as active today as when I met him," Mr. Jimeno said. "He's had some serious illnesses. But he fights back. I think his community involvement keeps him going."

The last Wednesday of each month, Mr. Elliott and Joannie Coleman-Casey, county zoning officer, patrol the neighborhood, looking for zoning violations. Usually, Mr. Elliott already has a list of complaints.

"If we're driving along he'll get out and say to someone 'You've got to clean this up,' " said Ms. Coleman-Casey. "I have to tell him 'Come out of that yard. You've got to get back in the car.' That's my biggest problem, keeping him in the car."

Morris Wilhide, vice president of the improvement association, said he doesn't want the responsibilities and frustrations of being president.

"It means getting calls at all hours of the night. Eight, nine, 10 o'clock," he said. "And if there's anything serious, [Mr. Elliott will] put on his clothes and come around."

Mr. Elliott's drive is one reason he has been the association's president for the last 15 years.

"We'd probably have to fold up ifit wasn't for him. I don't know what we would do without that man," said Mr. Wilhide, 72. "I know one thing, for a man who's 80-some years, he's very active. He goes from morning to night."

Mr. Wilhide also said Mr. Elliott won't let the association reimburse him for gas or car expenses incurred during trips to Annapolis, or wherever else help can be found.

Mrs. Elliott said she tries to coax her husband into slowing down and turning over the reins to someone else.

She's concerned about his health and the constant distraction of phone calls from neighbors needing help, she said.

"I had it in my mind a couple of times to quit," Mr. Elliott said. "But nobody wanted the job, and I won't give it up until I know someone's going to take it up and do a good job on it."

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