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Decorated veteran Robert Off oversaw Carnegie Hero Fund

| Monday, Sept. 6, 2010

Robert Off rarely spoke about his military service during World War II. But amid the rubble, smoke and broken bodies, he saw what it took to make a hero.

So it seemed only fitting that he would be the one chosen later in life to head a nonprofit organization that honors acts of heroism by civilians, said friends and family members.

Robert Willock Off of Ligonier died Friday, Sept. 3, 2010. He was 90.

For 22 years, he steered the Carnegie Hero Fund, a Pittsburgh-based foundation established in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie to encourage and reward acts of heroism.

"He was a great person, a loving person," his daughter Augusta Moravec of Washington, D.C., said.

The son of businessman and investor Clifford Off and Helen Willock, a homemaker from Pittsburgh, Mr. Off enrolled in the University of Virginia, but interrupted his studies to join the Army Air Corps before the United States entered the war.

He became a flight instructor and eventually was sent to Italy to pilot a B-24 Liberator bomber. He completed 29 combat missions in the European Theater and 23 missions as a group or squadron leader. Mr. Off received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and a battle star campaign ribbon for the D-Day invasion.

After the war, he moved to Pittsburgh, where he met Augusta Bickel. They were married June 7, 1946. Mr. Off became a loan officer with Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. He retired from the bank as senior vice president in 1979 to become the Carnegie Hero Fund's president.

"He, like a lot of (veterans), didn't talk much about that they saw. I'm sure he saw a lot of incidents that were horrific, but he also saw acts of heroism day after day," Moravec said. "He knew what a hero was.

"He was always fascinated to see what would make an average person jump into a dangerous situation and help someone they didn't know."

To date, the Carnegie Hero Fund has awarded more than 9,000 medals and $30 million to heroes and their families. Mr. Off stepped down as president in 2001, but remained an honorary board trustee until his death.

Family members believe Mr. Off cultivated a love for photography years before the war, when his parents gave him a camera as a gift. He evolved into an accomplished amateur photographer. Nineteen of Mr. Off's photographs, all of which he developed in a darkroom in the basement of his home, became part of the permanent collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

"He always had a creative bent," his daughter said. "He had a way of evoking a person's personality through photography."

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Robert B. Off of Cincinnati; another daughter, Helen Arnold of Dedham, Mass.; and six grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by brothers Samuel Off and Clifford Off.

A memorial service will be at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20 in St. Michael's of the Valley Church, Rector. Funeral arrangements are being handled by John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., Shadyside.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of donations to the Children's Institute, 1405 Shady Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217, The Ligonier Gardens Personal Care Home Activity Fund, Route 30, Ligonier, PA 15658 or a charity of the donor's choice.

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