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.

Frances Hesselbein, a Pitt visionary and one of the world’s ‘greatest leaders'

Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, leader of leaders and influential Pitt figure Frances Hesselbein died peacefully on Dec. 11, 2022, at her home in Easton, Pa., at the age of 107.

Hesselbein left her hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and rose to spend more than seven decades in the world of executive management, becoming a transformational, motivational and global figure along the way.

Max Baer, Pitt alumnus and Pennsylvania Supreme Court's chief justice

Max Baer died unexpectedly at his home in Pittsburgh's South Hills on Sept. 30, 2022, only months before he was set to retire as chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He was 74.

Baer earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh—where his lifelong love of Pitt Football began—in 1971 and later received a law degree from Duquesne University.

Al Primo, Pitt alumnus and creator of local TV's Eyewitness News format

Al Primo, a television station executive who transformed local newscasts into fast-paced “Eyewitness News” programs, died of lung cancer on Sept. 29, 2022, at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 87.

While attending the University of Pittsburgh, Primo worked as mail clerk at WDTV, a local station, and later as an assistant to the general manager. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1958 and became the assistant news director of the station, by then called KDKA-TV, before leaving for stations in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Ross W. Buck Jr., Pitt alumnus and former faculty member

Ross Workman Buck, who taught at Pitt's School of Medicine after earning his PhD in psychology at the University, died peacefully on Sept. 1, 2022. He was 81.

Following his academic stint at Pitt, Buck held appointments at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Connecticut. He authored four books on communication, emotion, motivation and nonverbal communication as well as numerous chapters and journal articles. He also served as editor of the International Society of Research on Emotion Newsletter and belonged to many professional organizations.

LGBT champion Anthony Silvestre, longtime face of Pitt Men's Study

Silvestre, 76, was professor emeritus of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt’s School of Public Health, associate director of Pittsburgh’s Center for LGBT Health and Wellness, and co-investigator for the Pitt Men’s Study, an NIH-funded research project that was key to the understanding of AIDS. He died on Sept. 1, 2022, at his home in Burlington, Vt., from heart-related problems.

Tony Siragusa, former Pitt Panthers and Baltimore Ravens star and Fox Sports personality

Siragusa, a standout Pitt defensive lineman from 1985-89 who went on to play 12 NFL seasons, died at age 55 on June 22, 2022.

A standout football player and wrestler in high school, Siragusa went on to play football at Pitt because, as he explained, “If I wanted to learn a school song, I would’ve gone to Notre Dame or Penn State. I wanted to kill people on the football field. That’s why I came to Pitt.” Current Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi said: “Tony truly was bigger than life, on and off the field. His post-football life took him so many places but he never forgot Pitt. We could always count on him to send the best recorded pep talks to our guys before our biggest games. ‘The Goose’ leaves a great legacy and he will be sorely missed.”

Donald M. Henderson, first African American provost at Pitt

Henderson and his accomplishments were honored in many ways over the years, from an endowed scholarship to a professorship to a clock at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard.

“Donald Henderson was one of the most consequential leaders in the modern history of the University of Pittsburgh,” said his longtime friend and colleague Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of Pitt. “He was a trailblazer, the first African American to serve as provost, or chief academic officer. He stabilized that position and expanded its impact and influence, changes that were critical to Pitt’s dramatic academic ascent. And in everything he did, Donald displayed strength of character, serving as a role model for many of us and elevating the culture of the institution.”

Henderson, who retired to The Villages, Fla., died June 8, 2022, of congestive heart failure. He was 91.

Robert E. 'Bob' Dunkelman, longtime University of Pittsburgh executive

Throughout his long career as a budget and finance executive at Pitt, Dunkelman was known for his integrity and the balanced work/life culture that he nurtured, colleagues and friends said. He died May 12, 2022, of complications from pulmonary fibrosis at age 91.

Joan C. Hoffman, longtime administrative assistant in Pitt's Office of the Chancellor

Hoffman received her bachelor's degree at Pitt in 1954 in psychology, having switched her major from chemistry when an aptitude test revealed she was too sociable to be working alone in a lab. She later proved this assessment true in her role as administrative assistant in Pitt's Office of the Chancellor, where she served three chancellors and the Pitt community for 30 years before opting for an "early retirement" at the age of 80 in 2012.

Orrin G. Hatch, longest-serving Republican in Senate history, dies at 88

Born in Homestead, Pa, Hatch earned his Juris Doctor from Pitt’s School of Law in 1962. He would go on to a storied legislative career that ended in 2019, with the title of longest-serving Republican U.S. senator in history.

Julius Pegues, first Black basketball player at Pitt, dies at 86

The 6-foot-3 forward joined Pitt in 1954 and played a year on the freshman team before earning a scholarship and moving to varsity. He averaged 13.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 77 career games for the Panthers and twice helped them to the NCAA tournament, including a 31-point performance in a first-round loss to Miami (Ohio) in 1958.

James Guggenheimer, a Pitt oral medicine pioneer

A Pitt faculty member since 1966 who trained an estimated 6,000-plus School of Dental Medicine graduates, Guggenheimer died on Jan. 27, 2022, at age 85.

With more than a half-century of service at Pitt's School of Dental Medicine, Guggenheimer was nonetheless part of one of the newer specialty fields, his colleagues said. For years, he advanced the knowledge of oral medicine through research focused on the connection between the mouth and the health of the rest of the body. This included dental changes in Rubella patients, as well as the oral health of people with diabetes and those who had received transplants.

Attilio "Buck" Favorini, founder of Pitt's Department of Theatre Arts, Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival

Scholar, award-winning playwright, and founding chair of Pitt's Department of Theatre Arts, Favorini died on Jan. 22, 2022, of complications from Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia at his Sacramento, Calif., home. He was 78.

Favorini joined the Pitt faculty in 1969 and served 27 years as theatre arts department chair and many years as the department's director of graduate studies. He oversaw the renovation and construction of three theaters at Pitt. He also founded the Pitt-based Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival (1980-1993), hailed as one of the leading Shakespeare festivals in the country, and was named a Pittsburgher of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine in 1989. He authored four books and six plays.

Gunduz Caginalp, Pitt mathematics professor and prolific researcher

Caginalp, a Pitt professor of mathematics who did applied mathematics research relating to physics, materials science and, most recently, economics and finance, died on December 7, 2021, at age 69.

His most influential research considered differential equation models describing the energy and other properties of boundaries between two different phases (e.g., liquid and solid) in a material. He also made multiple contributions to quantitative behavioral finance, which describes various factors that influence valuations of assets. His recent studies bubbles in cryptocurrency pricing attracted significant attention. Prior to joining Pitt's Department of Mathematics in 1984, Caginalp held faculty positions at Cornell, Rockefeller and Carnegie Mellon universities.

Nadrian C. Seeman, founder of the field of DNA nanotechnology, dies at 75

Seeman, a New York University chemist who earned a Ph.D. in crystallography/biochemistry from Pitt in 1970,  founded and developed the field of DNA nanotechnology—which is now pursued by over 250 laboratories across the globe—more than 35 years ago. His creations allowed him to arrange DNA building blocks to form specific molecules with precision through self-assembly—similar to the way a robotic automobile factory can be told what kind of car to make. Seeman’s work led the Christian Science Monitor to conclude that “nanotechnology may have found its Henry Ford.”

Seeman served as the the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Chemistry at NYU.

Robert Berkley Harper was first Black tenured professor at Pitt Law

Harper, the first Black tenured professor at Pitt's School of Law, died Oct. 12, 2021, at 82.

“Bob was a larger-than-life figure in the law school for many years,” said his former colleague Arthur Hellman, now professor emeritus, who arrived at Pitt in the middle of Harper’s first Pitt Law post as the school’s assistant dean (1973-77). “He was one of the most engaged teachers we've ever had at the law school, because he loved being with students and talking to students.”

Ronald LaPorte pioneered registry for diabetes patients

LaPorte, an emeritus professor of epidemiology who had a unique and lasting impact on everything from diabetes research to open-access academic lectures, the modern Library of Alexandria and care for homeless veterans, died on Oct. 30, 2021, at 72.

His colleagues noted on the epidemiology department webpage: “To his many friends and collaborators across the globe, Ron LaPorte was both the inexhaustible investigator who led them down the path of constant inquiry and an instant friend who brought energy and fun to any gathering.”

LaPorte finished his Ph.D. in psychology at Pitt in 1976.

Robert L. Wolke, chemistry professor, author of ‘How Einstein …’ food science books

Wolke—a Pitt professor emeritus of chemistry known for his ability to interpret chemistry to the least-experienced students and the public, and his talent for developing faculty and facilities—died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Aug. 29, 2021. He was 93.

“He was a brilliant scientist, gifted teacher and a real raconteur,” said W. Richard Howe, associate dean for administration and planning in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. Howe recalled Wolke as “an active contributor to any discussion with a wealth of insights, facts and personal experiences.

Leon L. Haley Jr.

Haley, a Pitt School of Medicine alumnus who was dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine and CEO of UF Health, Jacksonville, died in a jet ski accident on July 24, 2021, in West Palm Beach. He was the son of Leon L. Haley, a former Pitt senior vice chancellor and dean of the University's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Gerald S. Levey, former chair of Pitt's Department of Medicine

As chair of medicine at the Pitt School of Medicine from 1979 to 1991, Levey oversaw a mammoth reorganization of the school's operations and finances. He recruited distinguished faculty and department chiefs and implemented a physician practice plan. In 1983, Levey was among the founders of what is now known as UPMC.