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Monroeville father keeps alive daughter's memory with goldfish tradition

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 6:12 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Times Express
Gary Greisinger looks over the pond at Homewood Cemetery with his son Michael. Greisinger has been stocking the pond with goldfish every year as a memorial to his daughter, Cathy, who died in a fire 10 years ago.

For Gary Greisinger, everything changed when his daughter, Cathy, died in a house fire 10 years ago.

Greisinger maintained a tough exterior, as he chomped and puffed through two cigars on a recent Friday afternoon at a cemetery in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

But, he said, there are some mornings when painful memories linger, and it's hard for the Monroeville man to get out of bed.

“Everything is different,” Greisinger said. “You're more cautious about stuff. The humor that you used to laugh at, you don't laugh at anymore.”

As he does every year on the anniversary of her death, Greisinger released more than 500 goldfish into a pond at Homewood Cemetery last week, in remembrance of his daughter. She loved animals; in fact, when paramedics pulled her from the smoke that filled her Pitcairn home, the 27-year-old was cradling one of her cats in her arms.

Since her death, Greisinger has surrounded himself with animals as a way to cope. Cathy was his only daughter.

“He's more withdrawn in a way,” said his son, Michael. “He cries almost every day about it. We all changed. Everything changed.”

He was 18 when Cathy died. He said he misses her more the older he gets.

“There's a lot of stuff now in this 10 years that we could've done,” he said.

Cathy was a poet, a singer and a humanitarian at heart, the family said.

She would dedicate an entire day or week to helping a neighbor or to providing blankets and scarves for the homeless in downtown Pittsburgh.

There were times that her giving nature got in the way of business, the older Greisinger said, laughing, as she helped promote his oldies radio show on WEDO in McKeesport.

“She just had a heart of gold, which used to tick me off sometimes, because she would give everything away.”

It was in her spirit that Greisinger started the Cathy G Charities foundation. Using proceeds from concerts and golf outings, the foundation helps support the homeless and war veterans, said Janet Fabyankovic, an old friend who helps run the foundation.

Fabyankovic first met Greisinger as a fan of his show. His knack for impersonations earned him the nickname “the man of a 1,000 voices.” Greisinger has since retired and is able to dedicate more of his time to the charity.

“By helping people that Cathy would help, that's his main therapy,” Fabyankovic said, “keeping her legacy going.”

After releasing the goldfish, the group headed to the mausoleum where Cathy is interred. Her father reserved a spot by the window, where the sunlight warms the marble. At the entrance of the building is a white, multitiered fountain.

“It's nice when this fountain is on,” Greisinger said as he entered. “Make no mistake, this (spot) is very expensive. But, I said to myself, this is the last thing I'm going to buy for her.”

It was 4 a.m. on a Saturday when Greisinger received the phone call. His daughter had been pulled from a fire, and the person on the phone couldn't say if she was alive or dead. He rushed to his car, but the battery was dead. He said he sat there and wept. It was a sign from Cathy, he said.

“When that car didn't start, forget about it, I knew it was over.”

So when his battery died at the cemetery last week, on the 10-year anniversary of her death, Greisinger said he wasn't surprised.

“It's just her way of saying, ‘Hey, Dad, I'm here,'” he said.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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