Longtime crossing guard leaves lasting impression on Fox Chapel students, parents

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Fox Chapel teen Ben Kelly can't remember a day of elementary or middle school that he didn't bound off the bus at his South Pasadena stop and high-five the crossing guard.

Ever-present in his tan shirt, badge and orange reflective vest, guard Jimmy Devine loved to shoot the breeze with the 30-plus students at his stop. His favorite topics were sports and dogs.

“His dog's name is Kelly and my last name is Kelly, so we always joked about that,” said Ben, an eighth-grader at Dorseyville Middle School. “He's just a nice guy.”

Devine, 85, died July 11 after a brief illness.

As a testament to the job he loved, he was laid out in his crossing guard uniform and accompanied by a card made by his “extended family” that over the years included hundreds of families in the south Fox Chapel neighborhood.

“He became part of the fabric of our lives,” said parent Robin Trellis. “He was someone that maybe we didn't know very well, but we talked about all types of things and he was genuinely interested in the kids.”

More than 100 of the neighborhood residents were on hand at Devine's funeral to bid farewell, said his son, Pat.

“It was so amazing to see those young kids there,” he said.

A Lawrenceville native who moved his family to O'Hara in 1956, Devine took his family by surprise when he accepted the crossing guard job with the Fox Chapel Police Department, Pat said.

“He had just retired from the Fox Chapel Water Authority and he was ready to enjoy his free time,” Pat said. “That lasted about two months.”

A veteran of the Korean War and someone who thrived on hard work, Pat said his father needed to follow a schedule.

“He fell in love with the kids and that was it,” Pat said.

Trellis said Devine's showered the kids with more than polite conversation.

“I have an 18-year-old who has always had Jimmy at the bus stop. No matter where they saw each other, Jimmy would always stop and ask him about hockey. He reached out to all the kids that way.”

Trellis recounted a story where her now-college-age daughter was mistakenly left alone at the bus stop and Devine escorted her home.

“These are the people that you don't realize how important they are in your life,” Trellis said.

Parent Jonathan Han said he has seen Devine run after children to shoo them off the road to safety. They've talked about the war, the state of Major League Baseball and local politics. Devine shared his pride in his own family with other parents there.

His presence and companionship was part of the charm that makes up the rural neighborhood, Han said.

“It's hard to replace something like that, with the kids seeing the same person year after year, watching them grow up. It's unique,” he said. “He was a consistent part of their lives and he took it seriously.”

Devine will not be replaced, Fox Chapel Police Chief David Laux said, due in part to traffic pattern changes that included a traffic light at the Veterans Administration Hospital along Delafield Road.

“He would have been hard to replace,” Laux said. “He was always a gentleman and very well-liked by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.”

Devine was preceded in death by his wife, Dolores, in January 2014. He is survived by Pat, another son, Bill, and four grandsons. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are being accepted at the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh.

“Kids and dogs, those were his favorite things,” Pat said.

The children at the bus stop, albeit unknowingly, got to say a final goodbye to Devine at the end of the school year. He had taken sick leave but his son, Bill, drove him to the South Pasadena post where he spent two decades to visit.

“My brother called me and couldn't believe what he was seeing,” Pat said.

“Dad was hugging them and getting high-fives. One little girl ran and threw her arms around him. He never did that with us,” Pat said. “He was a great provider but he was private with us. He opened up with them and wanted to make sure they knew he was watching them.”

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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