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Former Fox Chapel mayor remembered as team builder

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The Herald
Former Fox Chapel Mayor Harry McLaughlin shares his Seal Of The Senate Award with library executive director Stephanie Flom. The award will be displayed in the McLaughlin room at the Cooper-Siegel Community Library in Fox Chapel. Jan Pakler | for The Herald

If at first glance you didn't recognize former Fox Chapel Mayor Harry McLaughlin by his signature flannel pajama pants, then his quick joke or story would get you.

“Harry O,” friends recalled, was as well known for his affability as his decades-long work to improve life in the Lower Valley. He died last week, at the age of 88, after a brief illness.

Known as a team-builder who believed in the power of people, McLaughlin was deeply rooted in paving a better way of life for the entire area, not just Fox Chapel.

“He had an enthusiasm for promoting the area as a great place to live,” said Vern Koch, longtime friend and former Fox Chapel Area school board director. “He spent most every day involved in community activities.

“I learned a lot from him — he wasn't so big on phone and email, he was big on personal contact. He would say, ‘Let's just go knock on the door.”

Appointed borough mayor in 1985, McLaughlin directed his efforts at projects that spread across all six communities of the school district. He co-founded All of Us Care, an afterschool program in Sharpsburg that aimed to keep children busy, healthy and off the streets.

Over the last decade or so, McLaughlin turned his attention to the need for a new library and community center to serve residents.

As president of the Community Center and Library Association, he campaigned to help raise $6 million for the new library that opened in 2011. To him, a new library would help rebuild and strengthen the Lower Valley.

“There is no doubt that Mayor Harry led the charge,” said Stephanie Flom, CCLA executive director. “He had an uncanny ability to bring people together to work for a common cause.”

Flom said his personality helped but people responded to McLaughlin's concern for the community.

“He was never about Harry. He inspired us to work together to achieve something greater than any of us,” she said.

As acknowledgement, the library staff in December surprised McLaughlin by naming a conference room in his honor — “My little Irish heart was really going,” the mayor said at the time.

That modest marker truly thrilled McLaughlin, Koch said, adding “I'm delighted that we did it while he was able to enjoy it.”

Even after his retirement in 2012, McLaughlin remained as head of the CCLA to lobby for a new $7 million community center, which is expected to break ground next spring.

His mayoral successor Alex Scott said it didn't surprise him that McLaughlin kept working after retirement.

“He was dedicated to the community, not just Fox Chapel,” said Scott, who enjoyed a 20-year friendship with McLaughlin. “He spent so many years making sure that the library was going to be built. His work wasn't done.”

Calling McLaughlin the greatest joke-teller of all time, Scott said his attitude was infectious — The new mayor even turned out to his first council meeting wearing plaid pajama bottoms so people would recognize his new position.

Friends said McLaughlin, who had a passion for golf, often turned a day on the links into a bigger mission. Having been a member of the Pittsburgh Field Club since 1951, he helped organize fundraising events each year for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In 1995, he founded The McLaughlin Cup, with proceeds going to local groups such as All of Us Care and the ALS Society.

The World War II Army veteran also liked to tool around in his 1930 Model T Ford, which he drove as a regular in the Aspinwall-Fox Chapel Memorial Day Parade. McLaughlin was a 62-year member of the American Legion Post 77.

Borough Secretary Dana Abate had a difficult time expressing her grief last week. She said McLaughlin was a friend and a second father figure.

Abate recalled many Friday evenings where McLaughlin would join her family to cap off a long work week with a themed cookout and an “attitude adjustment.”

“It's like losing a dad all over again,” she said. “Nobody told a joke like Harry-O, he was a friend to all of us at the office. He made your day when he walked in the door.

“He sincerely cared about people and you felt that the minute you met him. He will be sorely missed and forever in my heart.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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