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Obituary Stories

Ballet founder made mark with fortitude, kindness

| Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, 9:55 p.m.
Loti Falk Gaffney
Nicolas Petrov Collection, University of Pittsburgh
Loti Falk Gaffney
Loti and Leon Falk, 1987
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Loti and Leon Falk, 1987
Loti Falk with Arthur Blum and ballet dancer
Nicolas Petrov Collection, University of Pittsburgh
Loti Falk with Arthur Blum and ballet dancer
Loti Falk in the offices of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Loti Falk in the offices of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Loti Falk with Nicolas Petrov, Pittsburgh Ballet artistic director (1969-77), and Mayor Pete Flaherty in 1971.
Michael Friedlander, Nicolas Petrov Collection
Loti Falk with Nicolas Petrov, Pittsburgh Ballet artistic director (1969-77), and Mayor Pete Flaherty in 1971.

During a long life in Europe and America, Loti Falk Gaffney touched many lives and aided many public institutions, especially in Pittsburgh.

She was 94 when she died in her home in New York City on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, surrounded by family and caregivers.

“As a person, she was a very likable, intelligent and beautiful woman who loved ballet and the arts,” said Terrence Orr, artistic director since 1997 of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, which Mrs. Falk Gaffney founded in 1969.

“We wouldn't be here without her,” Orr said. “She was our founder and had the fortitude and strength to keep it going. I was always in awe of her.”

Born Loti Grunwald in Istanbul, Turkey, she was raised in Milan, Italy, and St. Moritz, Switzerland. Italian was her native tongue, but she learned many other European languages. As a young woman, she studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris.

When her family immigrated to New York City in 1939, she learned English and studied at Columbia University. During World War II, she performed volunteer service and married Michael A. Gerard. They had two sons, Robert and Peter. When the marriage ended in divorce, she took two jobs to provide her children with the privileges she enjoyed as a child. One job was writing English language scripts for lip-syncing Italian films, including classics such as Federico Fellini's “8½” and Michelangelo Antonioni's “L'Avvenura.”

In 1963, she married Leon Falk Jr., a prominent Pittsburgh industrialist and philanthropist, and acquired eight stepchildren. She became a powerful force in the city's cultural community, joining the board of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1963. Her biggest accomplishment, however, was founding Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

“She was always very helpful,” said Patricia Wilde, the ballet's artistic director from 1982-97. “She and her husband just pushed ahead. She was really fond of the dancers, always trying to make things nice for them so they would have an enjoyable life, as well as doing the work that they loved. She was very special.”

After Leon Falk died in 1986, she began spending more time in New York City. She married her third husband, Frank Gaffney, whom she met on the board of the Pittsburgh Symphony, in 1993.

“I remember always describing her as a real lady, a person you enjoyed talking to and who would listen to you, and also supported the arts,” said Michael Bielski, who met her in 1990 when he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony as general manager.

“When you saw her at concerts, she always had a kind word to say,” Bielski said. “I remember that when Loti Falk walked into a room, everyone stopped and acknowledged her. Loti was one of those people you meet who leaves a lasting impression.”

She and her husband bought a home south of Florence, Italy, shortly after their marriage, but when he died in 2001, she returned to New York City.

Mrs. Falk Gaffney is survived by her sons, Robert and Peter, and their wives, Pippa and Melinda; five grandchildren and four great grandchildren; and 11 stepchildren (and their children and grandchildren) from her later marriages.

Her family requests those wishing to commemorate her life make gifts in her name to “a charity of their choice or perform a simple act of kindness.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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