Passings

To share a recent passing of a member of the Pitt community, Please submit a request to the Pittwire editorial staff. Publicly available obituaries of current and former faculty and staff, students, and alumni will be considered for inclusion in Pittwire Passings.

Vernell A. Lillie

Vernell A. Lillie, a Pitt professor emeritus of Africana Studies who cofounded Pittsburgh's Kuntu Repertory Theatre and served as its artistic director for decades, died on May 11, 2020, her 89th birthday.

Lillie cofounded the award-winning theater company in 1974 and nurtured several generations of African American students and artists. "She was the queen mother of black theater in this city," said Sala Udin, a former city council member, activist and actor.

Bing Liu, a prolific researcher who was studying coronavirus

The University of Pittsburgh is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Bing Liu, a prolific researcher and admired colleague at Pitt. We extend our deepest sympathies to Liu’s family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

Members of our School of Medicine describe their former colleague as an outstanding researcher and mentor, and they have pledged to complete Liu’s research “in an effort to pay homage to his scientific excellence." Please see this statement from his colleagues at the Department of Computational and Systems Biology for more about Dr. Liu’s contributions to the field.

Paul H. O'Neill, former treasury secretary, Alcoa giant and Pitt trustee, dies at 84

O'Neill, whose 13-year career at Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Corp. became the stuff of legends after he made zero workplace injuries a company mantra, died April 18, 2020, at his Shadyside home.

Following his retirement as chair of Alcoa, O'Neill served as Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush for 11 months until December 2002. He was a Pitt trustee from 1988 to 1991 and a UPMC trustee from 2003 to 2004.

Ambridge police chief was also Pitt part-time instructor, retired Pittsburgh officer

Ambridge, Pa. Police Chief Mark J. Romutis, 64, who also served as a part-time instructor of criminal justice in Pitt’s College of General Studies, died April 12, 2020, from complications of COVID-19.

Romutis spent most of his law enforcement career with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, where he served in Zone 2 from 1983 until his retirement from the force in 2004. He also worked as Ellwood City’s police chief and as a Beaver County sheriff’s deputy.

Purdue President Emeritus Steven Beering remembered

Pitt alumnus Steven C. Beering, who was president of Purdue University from 1983 to 2000, died on April 6, 2020. He was 87 years old.

Under Beering’s leadership, Purdue expanded its international efforts, grew its liberal arts programs, promoted diversity, greened and beautified the campus, added 20 major buildings and took fundraising to new levels, a Purdue statement said. Beering earned a bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Pitt in 1954 and, under a Mellon Fellowship, went on to finish medical school there in 1958.

Stephen Louis Kondis

Stephen Louis Kondis, a Pitt alumnus and longtime faculty member at the University, died of natural causes on March 24, 2020, at 91.

Kondis graduated from Pitt's School of Dental Medicine in 1953, beginning a dental career that included 34 years of private practice in Munhall, Pa. For more than 40 years, he also served as an assistant professor at the school and on the staff of the Department of Dentistry, South Hills Health System.

Colclaser was chair and associate dean in electrical engineering

Robert Gerald “Jerry” Colclaser Jr., former chair of electrical engineering and associate dean for research in electrical engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, died March 4, 2020, at 86.

He will be remembered both for bringing the lessons of industry to Pitt classrooms, says his former doctoral degree advisee, Swanson faculty member Gregory Reed, and for inventing, with a partner, technology that is still used by the electrical utility industry.

Lombardi was leading scholar on liver cancer research

Benito Lombardi, called “one of the pillars of research on liver cancer” by his former colleague and current chair of pathology in the School of Medicine George K. Michalopoulos, died Jan. 24, 2020, at 91.

Lombardi joined the department in the early 1970s and retired in 1995 but continued to attend pathology seminars at the school for years, Michalopoulos recalled. “He’s been extremely well recognized as an outstanding researcher,” Michalopoulos said.

Classics department’s Mae Smethurst was noted noh scholar

Mae Elizabeth Johnson Smethurst, who spent her entire career in Pitt’s Classics Department, died Dec. 15, 2019 at 84 at home.

Smethurst was born May 28, 1935, in Hancock, Mich. The granddaughter of Finnish immigrants, she spoke Finnish before English. At age 7, Mae’s father took a job in the defense industry and her family moved to Philadelphia, where she grew up playing the violin in the Lower Merion High School orchestra and excelling academically.

Ertel excelled at bionucleonics at School of Pharmacy

Robert J. Ertel, who had a long career as a professor of pharmacology in the School of Pharmacy, died Dec. 10, 2019, at 87.

Ertel was already a Pitt faculty member when Rege Vollmer became his student in 1972; they became faculty colleagues in 1977. Ertel taught some of the school’s core courses in pharmacology and physiology, as well as a very popular course in bionucleonics—the use of radioactive materials in research—as Vollmer recalls. The latter course was one “that everyone loved to take. He was the only one who had the expertise. It was very important.”

Welsh made life easier in Financial Information Systems

Richard S. Welsh, a staff member with more than 25 years at Pitt—for the last 17 years as development manager in the Financial Information Systems department of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer—died Nov. 19, 2019.

Rich Welsh was born on March 1, 1963. After studying computer science at Pitt, his first University job was student programmer in the housing services department in 1993. He was hired as a full-time programmer analyst there the next year, then joined Financial Information Systems in 2002, where he worked as a developer and manager. A statement from his department called Welsh “a well-respected, excellent leader and an innovative developer."

Former med school associate dean Levey was an advocate for women faculty

Barbara Levey, a former associate dean and director of admissions and assistant dean for curriculum at the School of Medicine, who is remembered for helping to increase female medical student admissions and serving as a role model for female medical faculty, died Oct. 29, 2019, at 84.

Barbara Ann Cohen, born March 7, 1935, in Newburgh, N.Y., graduated from Cornell University in 1957 and in 1961 she earned an MD from the State University of New York at Syracuse—the only woman in her graduating class of 120. She joined Pitt, 1979-91, as a professor of pharmacology and of medicine, serving on Association of American Medical Colleges committees supporting women in medicine.

Bernard Fisher advanced breast cancer research while serving in School of Medicine

Bernard Fisher, pioneering breast cancer researcher and a distinguished service professor in the School of Medicine, died on Oct. 16, 2019, at 101.

Fisher advanced the understanding of the clinical biology of breast cancer and pioneered the design and implementation of large-scale multi-institutional randomized clinical trials.

Jan Smith was the ‘conscience and soul’ of anesthesiology department

Jan Smith—likely the longest-serving faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, who worked in the greatest number of Pitt and UPMC medical facilities locally and worldwide—died Sept. 6, 2019.

His departmental colleague Mark Hudson says Smith “was always considered the conscience and soul of the department.”

Doerfler brought real-world expertise to teaching dental residents

Richard Doerfler, a practicing orthodontist whose teaching took students from anatomy to the business of practicing dentistry, died Sept. 18, 2019.

Doerfler earned his undergraduate degree from St. Vincent College in 1982 and graduated from Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine in 1986, where he was a teaching assistant. In addition, he received master’s degrees in anthropology and anatomy from Pitt, as well as a Master of Dental Science in Orthodontics degree from the dental school here.

Biology lecturer Bledsoe was avian expert and honored teacher

Anthony Bledsoe, a 31-year biological sciences department lecturer and accomplished avian expert, died Sept. 14, 2019.

“Tony was truly beloved by his students,” said his long-time departmental colleague, Walter Carson. “He was a spectacular ornithologist.”

Rosemary Scully helped put Pitt Physical Therapy on the map

Rosemary Scully, former chair and associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, passed away August 7, 2019, in Sun City West, Ariz., where she resided after her retirement. 

She joined the physical therapy faculty in 1972 and remained until 1992 when she retired. She served several in leadership roles including as chair and worked continuously to enhance physical therapy training at Pitt.

Miroslav Klain worked on many projects during 40 years in Anesthesiology

Miroslav Klain, professor emeritus in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, died on May 18, 2019.

Klain was born in 1927 in Czechoslovakia. He trained as a physician at Charles University in Prague (MUDr., 1951) and earned a PhD as well. He began his medical career as a cardiac surgeon.

Jere Gallagher brought energy as associate dean of Education

Jere Gallagher, former associate dean in the School of Education known for her dedication and hard work in a sometimes-unheralded job, died Aug. 20, 2019, at 70.

John Jakicic, current chair of the school department where Gallagher was a faculty member—Health and Physical Activity—was a graduate student in the early 1990s and remembered Gallagher as a professor. “Talk about high energy!” he said. “Sure, there was a lecture, but she tried to get students actively engaged in their learning process, with hands-on activity, far before that became the way (of education generally).”

Audrey Champagne was a pioneer at LRDC

Audrey B. Champagne, a pioneer who studied science and mathematics learning at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), died Aug. 14, 2019, at 84.

Her former colleague Richard Goldman, who met Champagne when she joined the School of Education as a lecturer in 1968, said, “Audrey is the smartest person I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot of smart people.