Tarentum attorney David Strellec fought for the 'little guy'
Most lawyer referral websites list Tarentum attorney David Strellec's specialties as real estate and personal injury.
But those who knew and love him will say those websites paint an incomplete picture. They'll say that Strellec's specialty was always humanity.
Strellec, Tarentum Borough's solicitor, died on Tuesday in his East 10th Avenue home. He was 68 years old.
His humanity is what prompted his oldest daughter, Christina Strellec-Simpson, 32, to use the quintessential small-town lawyer in “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a nickname for her dad.
“I always called him Atticus Finch because everybody always pulled at his heart strings, and he would always help people,” Strellec-Simpson said. “He did so much work for free.”
Describing her husband, Pamela Strellec said, “He was the most compassionate supporter and strongest disciple for the little guy. He would help everybody, no matter their ability to pay. He would say, ‘I have to speak for the people who need a voice.'”
His youngest daughter, Susan, 22, who is working toward a master's degree, said her father provided her with inspiration and motivation.
“He always told me to focus on education and try to do what I love,” she said. “He was really supportive of everything I did, and he encouraged me. He encouraged me to study abroad and to try new things.”
One thing that was a constant for Strellec, according to his friends and family, was his sense of humor.
“He saw humor in every situation, and it was an offbeat type of humor,” Susan Strellec said. “And he would laugh at his own jokes.”
Her sister, Christina Strellec-Simpson said her father teased her as a kid because she was gullible.
“He told me he was on the Tarentum luge team and they used to go down Corbet Street, and they would have to watch for trains. And of course, I believed him,” said Strellec-Simpson. “He still teased me to this day over that.”
The law was actually Strellec's second profession. He taught English in the Burrell School District for 13 years before he earned his law degree from Duquesne University.
He continued to use his teaching skills in the courtroom, according to Pittsburgh attorney Michael Pribanic. They became close friends about 30 years ago while working as prosecutors in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.
“Everyone has their own trial technique and Dave's was “‘OK, let me teach and inform them,' and that's how he would win them over,” Pribanic said.
“He was an extremely fine lawyer,” Pribanic said. “He knew the law, he worked hard for his clients because he cared about his clients. To find those attributes in a lawyer these days is rare.”
Former attorney Joe Kristofik of Fawn also knew Strellec for 30 years. They shared an office for several years and collaborated on cases.
“As a lawyer he would come up with, not angles, but new approaches to problems,” Kristofik said. “That is something you learn to admire as a lawyer — innovative lawyering.”
Kristofik said Strellec was generous and, to top it off, “was a hell of a cook, too.”
“When he made soup, he would make a cauldron, and he would take it to the church. He would take it to the poor,” Pamela Strellec said. “I would say, ‘David, we're feeding the whole town'; and he would say, ‘I have to.' ”
Tarentum Council President Tim Rapp met Strellec when he was elected to council. Strellec served as solicitor for the town where he grew up since the mid-1980s.
“When I came on to council, I had no idea of what I was getting into, and he was like a mentor to me,” Rapp said.
“Dave became a really good friend of mine,” he said. “A couple of years ago, I was having some personal problems, and that is when I became really close to him. He took me in like one of his family.”
Rapp said he could stop in to see Strellec at any time with a legal question, and Strellec would never bill the borough.
“I'm going to miss him,” an emotional Rapp said. “Tarentum Borough can never replace him,”
Pamela Strellec said her husband made it known from the start where their roots would be.
“He just loved it here,” she said. “We were not living anywhere but Tarentum — that was made perfectly clear.
“That was the center of his life, this community.”
The Valley News Dispatch occasionally publishes obituary stories on notable local residents. They are news items, and, as such, no charge is applied. The subjects of these stories are determined at the discretion of the editors.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.