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Attorney was 'The Bard of Grant Street'

| Sunday, May 12, 2002

Along Grant Street Downtown, Dick Witt was known as the "bard of Grant Street."

"Dad was given the name because of his storytelling," said his son, the Rev. Richard C. Witt. "Dad was a great storyteller to whom friends enjoyed listening. His office was also on Grant Street."

Richard "Dick" Cyril Witt, a resident of Ross Township, and a former president of the Pittsburgh Philatelic Society, died from complications of Parkinson's disease on Friday, May 10, 2002, at home. He was 79.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Witt, because of his reputation with what are known as "Cinderella Stamps" — stamps that are not listed in the regular stamp catalogues, such as tax, revenue or charity stamps — was the driving force behind the creation of the special Bicentennial Pittsburgh stamp issued in 1958.

He was also a volunteer curator of the Carnegie Museum Stamp and Postal History Collection before it was moved.

"My father's fascination with stamps began when he was 8 years old," his son said. "My grandfather, who owned a restaurant where Mellon Park now stands, was mostly responsible for my father's interest.

"It wasn't so much the stamps themselves," he pointed out, "but their connection with history. My father, before he died on Friday, was in the midst of writing a stamp encyclopedia. His writings and papers will be housed at the National Philatelic Library in State College."

Born and raised in East Liberty, Mr. Witt was one of two children in the family of Hilarian and Emma Ostoff Witt. The elder Witt operated a grocery store in Morningside that had been in the family for several generations.

As a youth attending Peabody High School in East Liberty, Mr. Witt not only worked in the family grocery store, but also delivered three editions of a metropolitan daily newspaper.

In 1940, after graduation from Peabody, Mr. Witt enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied for two years until he entered the service and was assigned to an infantry outfit in Georgia.

After his discharge in 1947, Mr. Witt completed his undergraduate degree at Pitt and received his law degree from Harvard. "It wasn't easy," said his son. "All Dad did was work and study.

In 1957, after employment stints at Alcoa and Pittsburgh Steel Co., he joined the law firm of Jones, Gregg, Creehan and Gerace, where he remained until he retired in 2000.

"Dad served as a special assistant to the Attorney General in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, where he focused upon black lung cases," Richard Witt said.

"He tried cases throughout the state. He'd take me with him. I'd sit and listen to him try cases in Clearfield and Fayette counties. He was sincere in helping those who needed help. "

Mr. Witt's devotion to his Episcopal faith, both as a member of St. Andrew's in Highland Park and Christ Episcopal in Ross Townshp, and to helping the less fortunate literally rubbed off on his son, an Episcopal clergyman who is involved with a group securing educational opportunities and representation for migrant farm workers throughout New York State.

"My father was a humble person," his son said. "He had dignity and integrity and always thought of others before himself."

Mr. Witt is survived by his wife, Ann Lyn Becker Witt; sons, the Rev. Richard C. Witt of Accord, N.Y.; daughters, Amy Witt of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and Jennifer Love of Hingham, Mass.; grandchildren, Jesse Leavitt Witt and Asa Cyril Witt and Elijah and Spencer Love; and his sister, Jeanne Bickerstaff of Mars, Butler County.

He is also survived by his stepchildren, James, Theodore and Lyn Vaux, and two step-grandchildren.

Visitation is from 1 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. today in the family home, 204 Dombey Drive, Ross Township. A funeral and burial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday in Christ Episcopal Church, Babcock Boulevard, Ross Township.

Arrangements by Simons Funeral Home, Inc., 7720 Perry Highway, Ross Township.

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