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Jerry Vondas, longtime Tribune-Review obituary writer, dies at 83

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 10:36 a.m.
Heidi Murrin
Jerry Vondas at his desk in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newsroom in February 2005.
Jerry Vondas and his wife, Laura.

Jerry Vondas gave a voice to the silent as he told the stories of Western Pennsylvanians famous and unknown.

As the Tribune-Review's feature obituary writer for 15 years, Mr. Vondas loved to tell the tale of someone with old-fashioned American values — a person's patriotism, love of God, family, education, hard work and volunteerism.

Yet he could draw out a human trait to remember.

“Oh, so she made good soup?” his colleagues might overhear him asking a family member.

Jerry Vondas of Squirrel Hill, a Hazelwood native and journalist for 45 years, died on Tuesday at UPMC Passavant Hospital. He was 83.

His health had deteriorated since an automobile accident in March.

“Jerry was a tireless worker, a devoted employee,” said Tribune-Review publisher Dick Scaife. “He had a terrific following of people who read his articles, and he helped to make the Tribune-Review a success over the years. All of us will miss him.”

After working as a waiter at the Duquesne Club, Downtown, for 10 years and tending bar while attending the University of Pittsburgh, he joined the staff of the North Hills News Record in 1968.

He went to work for The Pittsburgh Press in 1971, where he wrote features until the newspaper closed on Dec. 31, 1992. After a stint with the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh's newspaper, Mr. Vondas joined the Tribune-Review in 1998.

The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania honored him in 2000 with its first Service to Journalism Award for his decades of reporting excellence.

“Jerry chronicled the lives of so many people in the city, from all walks of life,” said Tribune-Review Editor Frank Craig. “His words provided comfort to many families in a time of grief and made him a well-known, well-loved figure in our community. He took great pride in his work, and he leaves a wonderful journalistic legacy.”

Mr. Vondas often recalled his start in the business, and, grateful to his mentors, paid it forward by guiding younger writers.

“On my first day as a college intern with the North Hills News Record in January 1970, I was sent to a restaurant fire in Ross,” said Trib night city editor Joe Filip. “The editor told me a reporter would meet me there. It was Jerry. He kept giving me dimes to call the office with updates, but I think it was mostly to get me out of the bitter cold.”

After a day off, Mr. Vondas sometimes made a point of praising his substitute's work to the city editor.

“He (or she) writes a good obit,” he'd say. “The family will be pleased.”

Mr. Vondas could find stories anywhere. It wasn't unusual for him to call the metro desk after spending his morning with what he called his coffee group at Panera Bread to report something happening.

Sometimes his tips were big news, such as a development project, and sometimes they were stories important to a small circle of family and friends, such as a high school student's achievements worth recognizing. He could direct photographers to a colorful holiday display, a church celebration, a food festival drawing a crowd.

“No one was better in any of his pursuits than he was,” said the newspaper's attorney, Yale Gutnick, who knew Mr. Vondas for 35 years. “He will be dearly missed by everyone in Pittsburgh who knew him, personally or through his work at the Trib.”

In the newsroom, he made certain to exchange pleasantries and to spread cheer by putting a funny cartoon in someone's mailbox or sharing photos of his cherished family. He never forgot to give coworkers Christmas cards.

“Jerry's humanity radiated to anyone he talked to,” Managing Editor Jim Cuddy said. “His work ethic and dedication to the Trib were inspirational.”

Survivors include his wife, Laura Baccelli Vondas; daughter, Maria Vondas Connelly; grandsons, Coleman and Colin; and sister, Olga Mervosh. A grandson, Christian, died in 2011.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire Street, Shadyside. His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Shadyside Presbyterian Church, 5121 Westminster Place.

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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