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O'Hara ALS awareness advocate dies at 49

Tawnya Panizzi
| Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:15 p.m.
Suzanne and Neil Alexander of O'Hara have pledged to raise $2.5 million to help finance the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Suzanne and Neil Alexander of O'Hara have pledged to raise $2.5 million to help finance the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Suzanne and Neil Alexander of O'Hara have pledged to raise $2.5 million to help finance the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Suzanne and Neil Alexander of O'Hara have pledged to raise $2.5 million to help finance the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

Friends recall Neil Alexander living life with courage and grace — the same attributes as Lou Gehrig, whose namesake disease Alexander died from Tuesday.

The O'Hara resident was 49.

“Neil really got it,” said Peter Strick, scientific director of the Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. The center was funded in part by Live Like Lou — a research- and awareness-driven group headed by Alexander and his wife, Suzanne.

The Alexanders pledged to raise $2.5 million over five years to help finance the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research, housed within the year-old Brain Institute at Pitt. The university said it matched the pledge in a campaign to raise $10 million for the center.

“Neil understood that to make any progress, it's going to depend on discovery and basic research,” Strick said. “He knew that he was helping the next guy, that it wasn't going to be in time to help him and that's incredibly courageous.”

More than 30,000 people in the United States suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which strikes the nervous system and leads to paralysis.

Alexander, born in Pittsburgh and raised in Columbus, Ohio, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. That was when his advocacy sped into high gear.

He frequently attended events such as the Community Swim Club fundraiser in O'Hara in the fall, where Alexander cheered while children raked in dollars with each lap.

Alexander's Live Like Lou pledged up to $250,000 to help renovate Meadow Park in O'Hara, where he hoped to erect a memorial wall to resonate Gehrig's sportsmanship with the young ball players.

After earning his bachelor's degree from Fordham University, Alexander graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department Academy. When his family moved to Pittsburgh in the 1990s, Alexander earned his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and shortly after, he joined Hefren-Tillotson, where he served as the firm's director of financial planning and chief operating officer.

In recent years, Alexander worked with The Pittsburgh Foundation to start the Live Like Lou Fund.

“We at the foundation are all so sad that such a rich and giving life has ended, but we are all so fortunate to be playing a role in the legacy that will continue,” said Maxwell King, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “Neil was a person of action, of bold, creative thinking, and a person of extraordinary courage.”

Bobby Cherry contributed to this report. Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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