95-year-old Hyde Parker honored by Mayor

Former student and longtime friend Ruth Watts reads Mayor Lightfoot’s letter of recognition to Paul Bruce for his contribution to the community. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

Contributing writer

Long time Hyde Parker and Montgomery Place resident Paul Bruce, who recently celebrated his 95th birthday, has received a letter of recognition from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for his contribution to the community.

On Aug. 28, many of Bruce’s friends and other residents of Montgomery Place, 5550 S Shore Dr., gathered to celebrate with him. Ruth Watts, a longtime friend of Bruce and a former student from William Penn Elementary School on Chicago’s westside, presented Bruce with the mayor’s letter and a letter of recognition from Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th ).

Bruce, who was born in 1924, grew up in a biracial household in Bronzeville. He worked as a principal for several Chicago Public Schools including the Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park from where he retired 30 years ago. “Nobody at Murray knows me anymore,” chuckled Bruce. However, not only do his students remember him, but they adore him.

After retiring as a principal, Bruce began a second career as a realtor in Hyde Park. It was during this time that Bruce began giving docent-style tours of the neighboring area. His first tour was of Pullman to see the Pullman car factory. He got the inspiration to organize tours of Bronzeville and Hyde Park when he was introduced to a lady who was running a Black History Tour company for South Side.

Bruce spent his childhood on 59th and Michigan and had frequented Hyde Park as a child. He got to work preparing material for a historical tour of the neighborhood. However, Bruce insists that he never stuck to a script, as he had amassed much more information than he needed for a single walking session. So, no tour he gave was exactly the same as any other. As Bruce says, “it was more important for me to stay involved rather than memorize something and rattle it off as a recording”

Bruce has seen Chicago change, and he has a sense of capturing that through anecdotes from his experiences. From his childhood adventures, which include riding his bicycle down the stairs of what is today the Museum of Science and Industry, to his experiences dealing with the Chicago Board of Education as a principal, Bruce paints a vivid picture of how the city has evolved.

A raconteur who can keep his audience spellbound even at 95, Bruce has retained his magnetism, as he entertained those who gathered to honor him.

The letter from Mayor Lightfoot was read to Bruce by his student Ruth Watts, who has known him for over 60 years, since she was his pupil at the age of 12. Watts had drifted out of touch with Bruce and only came back in contact with him through the tours he conducted.

For his 95th birthday, she wrote to the mayor about Bruce and his life and work for Black history, which prompted a letter of appreciation from Lightfoot, and a tribute from Hairston.

Bruce hasn’t retired; he is planning another Bronzeville tour, for residents of Montgomery place.