A Look Back: 32 Years Celebrating Great Pittsburghers
Since 1986, Pittsburgh Magazine has recognized exceptional individuals or organizations as Pittsburghers of the Year. The recipients of these annual awards have made unmeasurable contributions to our city and region. Here, we revisit each winner and find out where they are now.
2017 Kelly Frey.
The WTAE-TV news anchor and mother of two, including a son with extra needs, was named Pittsburgher of the Year for her brave and public stance after revealing, at age 43, she had breast cancer. Her frank, educational on-air announcement of her diagnosis sparked hundreds of thousands of comments on social media that called the anchor an inspiration to others. She finished radiation treatments in 2017 and chemo in the spring of 2018. As she did throughout treatment, she remains on air today. —JS
2016 The Pittsburgh Penguins.
After winning the Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks in 2016 — and bringing together the city in a frenzy of excitement — the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team accepted the Pittsburghers of the Year title with deference to their fans, who, according to Pens CEO and President David Morehouse, made the designation possible. “We are who our fans are, and our fans are some of the greatest fans in the world,” he told the magazine. —JS
2015 Karen Wolk Feinstein, Morgan O’Brien, Billy Porter.
To celebrate 30 years of recognizing exceptional individuals, Pittsburgh Magazine chose three winners in 2015. Karen Wolk Feinstein was honored for shepherding the Jewish Healthcare Foundation through its 25-year evolution into a national voice for patient safety and health care quality. She continues to lead JHF as president and chief executive officer. Morgan O’Brien was chosen after emerging as the region’s foremost economic development champion, investing time and resources both as Allegheny Conference on Community Development chairman and as Peoples Natural Gas CEO and president, a position he still holds. Today, he chairs The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and sits on the board of directors for The Pittsburgh Foundation. Billy Porter was honored for his artistic talent and triumphs, as well as his ongoing support and promotion of the arts in Pittsburgh and nationally. The Tony and Grammy winner dropped his latest studio album, “Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers,” in 2017. —JS
2014 The Fred Rogers Company.
For its application of 21st-century media technologies, its reinvigoration of the beloved legacy of PBS series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” through the animated, award-winning “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” — which premiered in 2012 — and its passionate advocacy for children, the Fred Rogers Co. and its talented staffers were named Pittsburghers of the Year in 2014. —JS
2013 &1988 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Following 20 consecutive, frustrating seasons of missing the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Pirates won an emotional Wild Card victory against the Cincinnati Reds at a packed PNC Park in 2013, propelling them to a five-game National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. While their run went no further, the team managed to win something else, the hearts of a “lost generation of fans." They also were named Pittsburghers of the Year in 1988, when the team finished second in the National League East. —JS
2012 &1999 Mario Lemieux.
A multiple winner, who also was named to the magazine’s 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time list, Lemieux was honored as Pittsburgher of the Year in 2012 and 1999. Credited with saving hockey in Pittsburgh when he became an owner of the team in 1999, the hockey legend, a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, turned his attention toward opening the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center in 2012. In 2018, the nonprofit Mario Lemieux Foundation, which raises money for cancer research, celebrated its 25th year. Since its inception, it has raised nearly $25 million and built 36 Austin’s Playrooms for children and families in challenging medical situations. —JS
2011 Jim Rohr.
It would be easy to call James E. Rohr, then-chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, a powerful captain of industry and leave it at that. But Rohr also revitalized the city’s economic growth as chairman of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. He chaired the Pittsburgh 250 Commission and was instrumental in the renovation of Point State Park. While leading the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, he helped spearhead the growth of the Cultural District. After retiring as PNC’s CEO in 2013 and chairman in 2014, Rohr now chairs Carnegie Mellon University’s Board of Trustees. —JS
2010 Jamie and Ali McMutrie.
For their inspiring bravery and selflessness while saving orphaned children of Haiti — both before and after the country’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake — sisters Jamie and Ali McMutrie, originally of Ben Avon, were honored as Pittsburghers of the Year. Today they continue to oversee Haitian Families First, the nonprofit they founded in 2010 dedicated to providing medical, nutritional and education support to Haitian children. —JS
2009 Dan Bylsma and Mike Tomlin.
For their early success through good fortune and old-fashioned hard work, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin were named 2009’s Pittsburghers of the Year. Early in 2009, former head coach Michel Therrien was relieved and Bylsma stepped up to fill the spot. At the time, he was the youngest head coach in the NHL at 38 years old. In his first 25 games, his 18–3–4 record totalling 40 points was the second best mark in the first 25 games of any NHL coach in history. In 2018, Bylsma led the Penguins to their third Stanley Cup. He now is an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. Down the street at Heinz Field, Tomlin was writing history with the Steelers. In February 2009, the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, making Tomlin the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl at age 36. —HS
2008 Randy Pausch.
Late Pittsburgh professor Randy Pausch was recognized for his work as an educator at Carnegie Mellon University. Pausch lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in 2008 at age 47 but left behind a legacy as “the most famous computer scientist who ever lived,” according to one colleague. “Time is all you have, and it must be explicitly managed,” wrote Pausch in “The Last Lecture,” his best-selling 2008 memoir. “You may find one day that you have less than you think.” —HS
2007 Bill Strickland.
For his commitment to bettering the lives of thousands of individuals through the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center, Bill Strickland was Pittsburgher of the Year in 2007. Strickland was the founder, President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corp., which provides adult career training and youth arts education to underserved communities. Strickland was chosen to serve on the White House Council for Community Solutions by President Obama in December 2010 and was honored with the Allegheny County Council’s Pittsburgh Circle of Courage Award in Education in 2014. This year he transitioned to become executive chairman of the organization. —HS
2006 Henry Hillman & Elsie Hilliard Hillman.
Duo Henry Hillman and Elsie Hilliard Hillman were 2006’s Pittsburghers of the Year for their lifetime of leadership and philanthropy. They are perhaps most well known for their gifts of the Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh, the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Hillman Cancer Center at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Hillman Fellow Program for Innovative Cancer Research. An influential Republican, Elsie died in 2015 at age 89. She is one of our 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time. Henry, a billionaire industrialist and chairman of The Hillman Co., died in 2017 at age 98. —JS
2005 &1989 August Wilson.
Using the Hill District as inspiration, playwright August Wilson provided a legacy to world culture. His work included a series of 10 plays, “The Pittsburgh Cycle” — for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes — that depicted the African-American experience in the 20th century. “Fences,” which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, later was made into a film starring and directed by Denzel Washington. Wilson, who died in 2005 at age 60, nabbed a spot on the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time list. —JS
2004 Olympic medalists: Swin Cash & Lauryn Williams, Nobel Prize winners: Finn Kydland, Edward Prescott & Wangari Maathai, Philanthropist: Teresa Heinz Kerry and Pittsburghers who helped victims of the Hurricane Ivan floods.
The honorees for 2004 were divided into four categories. In “The Thinkers” were 2004 Nobel Prize winners Wangari Maathai, Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott. A biologist with a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Maathai in 1977 founded the “Green Belt Movement,” which continues to fight for environmental conservation, as well as political freedom, in Africa. She was the first black African woman to win a Nobel. She died in 2011. Then Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Finn Kydland and his mentor, former CMU professor Edward Prescott, were awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for their work analyzing the relationship between economic policy and business cycles. They continue their work at other universities. Under “The Champions” were Swin Cash, a McKeesport native who brought home a gold medal in basketball from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, and Lauryn Williams, a silver medalist in the 100 meter dash from the same Olympic games. Cash runs several nonprofits and Williams launched a financial planning business in 2016. “The Samaritans” included the Pittsburghers who lent a helping hand after flooding from Hurricane Ivan devastated the area while “The Philanthropist,” Teresa Heinz Kerry, reminded the nation that Pittsburgh is worth paying attention to during husband John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. She also was named Pittsburgher of the Year in 1994. —JS
2003 The Children of 2003.
Ranking at the top of Pittsburgh Magazine’s cutest cover subjects, the Perry sextuplets — Ian, Simon, Madison, Zoe, Joshua and Olivia — epitomized the opportunities and challenges facing Pittsburgh in the previous year. Each of the six babies represented six forces shaping the future of the region: education, the environment, economy, infrastructure, health and leisure. —JS
2002 The Pittsburgh Foundation Community.
The many people who make up local philanthropic foundations were chosen as the Pittsburghers of the Year for 2002. The foundations included The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Birmingham Foundation and the Alcoa Foundation. It also included smaller foundations that have merged with larger ones. —SC
2001 Mark A. Nordenberg and Jared Cohon.
Lauded for their spirit of cooperation, it made sense for University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon to share Pittsburgher of the Year honors in 2001. By turning CMU and Pitt into collaborators, they also sowed the seeds for Pittsburgh’s future as an innovator in everything from artificial intelligence to artificial organs. Nordenberg retired as chancellor in 2014 but still serves as chair of the university’s Institute of Politics. Cohon served as president until 2013. He now is a professor at the CMU College of Engineering. —JS
2000 Martin McGuinn, Carol Brown and Tom O'Brien.
Martin McGuinn of Mellon Financial Corp., Tom O’Brien of PNC and Carol Brown of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust were chosen for championing investments in brick and mortar that energized the region. While PNC and Mellon opened new customer/client service centers Downtown, reshaping the skyline, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust added a new performance space, public art displays and parks. McGuinn retired as CEO from Mellon in 2006. Brown, noted for her promotion of the cultural and economic growth of Downtown’s arts and entertainment corridor, remained president of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust through 2000. She has served on the board of directors for local organizations such as Mellon Financial and Duquesne University. Serving as CEO of PNC Financial Services until 2000, then as chairman in 2001, O’Brien has kept a strong presence in Pittsburgh, including serving as director of Verizon Communications Inc. from 1987 to 2011. He currently sits on the boards of the Extra Mile Education Foundation, Pittsburgh Opera and the Board of Visitors of University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Business. —JS
The 80s and 90s
1998 Champions of Regionalism.
Not one, not two, but 60 individuals noted as leaders of Southwestern Pennsylvania were crowned Pittsburghers of the Year as the “Architects of Regionalism.” Some of the honorees included businesspeople from companies such as Sony Technology Center, Alcoa, Giant Eagle, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Calgon Carbon Corp. and PNC Bank. Local economists, leaders of charity foundations, policymakers and pioneers of the culture and tourism industries also were honored in the list. —SC
1997 Fred Rogers.
Celebrating 30 years of his landmark PBS show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” the region’s (and possibly the nation’s) favorite neighbor was named Pittsburgher of the Year in 1997. A Presbyterian minister, Rogers taught and unleashed the imagination of the country’s youth while calmly and simply addressing relevant childhood topics such as anger, death and divorce. Rogers also landed the top spot on the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time list. He died in 2003 at age 74. — JS
1996 Bill Cowher.
Five years into his tenure as head coach, Bill Cowher led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl in 1996. Although the Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys, Cowher’s hard work and perseverance earned him Pittsburgher of the Year status. Cowher got his Super Bowl victory in 2006. He retired shortly after and currently is a studio analyst with “The NFL Today” on CBS. —JS
1995 John E. Connelly.
Despite being a wealthy businessman, Gateway Clipper Fleet creator John E. Connelly was awarded Pittsburgher of the Year in 1995 for his work outside of his profession. He is remembered for his philanthropic endeavors for Catholic education, such as supplying half of the $20 million endowment for the Bishop's Education Fund and pledging $10 million to the Pittsburgh Diocese for scholarship aid. Connelly died in 2009 at age 83. —SC
1994 Teresa Heinz Kerry.
A powerhouse in the philanthropic world, Teresa Heinz Kerry — the widow of U.S. Sen. John Heinz — was honored for her work with the Heinz Endowments, particularly her efforts on behalf of children, the arts and the environment. She married 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 1995. After turning over control of the Heinz Endowments to her three sons in 2016, Heinz Kerry remains Chair Emeritus of the organization. She also was named a Pittsburgher of the Year in 2004. —JS
1993 Dr. Thomas Starzl.
This past July, the University of Pittsburgh placed a statue of Dr. Thomas Starzl on a bench outside the Cathedral of Learning. More than 25 years prior, Starzl was honored as Pittsburgher of the Year for his pioneering research in transplant surgery. Starzl, who also is on the list of 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time, died at age 90 in 2017. —SC
1992 Tom Foerster.
Pittsburgh International Airport as it stands today would not exist without former Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster. He played a vital role in the revamping of the airport, leading to its sprawling campus in Moon Township. Foerster died in 2000 at age 72. —SC
1991 Bob Johnson.
After a storied career, “Badger Bob” Johnson spent a single, memorable year as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990-1991 season, leading the formerly underachieving team to a Stanley Cup championship. Later in 1991, at age 60, he died of brain cancer. Known for his enthusiasm and optimism, Johnson is immortalized by his catchphrase, “It’s a great day for hockey!” —JS
1990 George Romero.
George Romero’s name is synonymous with “zombie.” The Pittsburgh filmmaker is credited with jumpstarting the genre of American zombie movies for his cult classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Romero died in 2017 at 77, but his legacy, like his zombies, remains undead. In 2018, his widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, announced the formation of the George A. Romero Foundation to support local independent genre films and filmmakers. Romero has a spot on the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time list. —JS
1987 Richard Caliguiri.
When he was named Pittsburgher of the Year, Richard Caliguiri, then in his third term, was savoring the results of Renaissance II, a series of joint public and private building projects that would reshape the city’s skyline. Shortly after, in the spring of 1988, the visionary Caliguiri died from amyloidosis, an incurable disease that attacks the body’s tissues and organs. He was 56. —JS
1986 Wesley Posvar and Richard Cyert. Two educators were honored as Pittsburgh Magazine’s first Pittsburghers of the Year in 1986. Under Chancellor Wesley Posvar’s leadership from 1967 to 1991, the University of Pittsburgh grew exponentially. A former fighter pilot credited with leading Pitt from the brink of financial collapse, he died in 2001 at age 75. A economist, statistician and organizational theorist, Richard Cyert oversaw significant expansion at Carnegie Mellon University during his tenure as president from 1972 to 1990, including the school’s focus on computer studies and the initiation of new program areas in urban and public policy, engineering, architecture and art. Cyert died in 1998 at age 77. —JS