Pitt Alumni Association Names 2011 Distinguished Alumni Fellows

Issue Date: 
February 21, 2011

The University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association has named the late Jesse W. Fife Jr. (A&S ’72), former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Manchester Bidwell Corp., and Joseph F. Weis Jr. (LAW ’50), senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, as Distinguished Alumni Fellows for 2011. Fife, who knew of the honor before his passing on Dec. 6, 2010, and Weis will be honored during the University’s annual Honors Convocation at 3 p.m. Feb. 25 in Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

The University’s 35th annual Honors Convocation will feature Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson as the keynote speaker. Beeson is in her first year as Pitt’s chief academic officer, having been appointed to the position on Aug. 15, 2010. She spent six years in the Office of the Provost, first as vice provost for graduate studies followed by an appointment as vice provost for undergraduate and graduate studies. Prior to that, she served three years as associate dean for undergraduate studies in the School of Arts and Sciences. She has been a faculty member of the Department of Economics since 1983 and has a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Beeson earned her bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University in 1977 and her doctoral degree from the University of Oregon in 1983.

The convocation honors, in addition to Distinguished Alumni Fellows, outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional student academic achievement; student leadership; and faculty and staff accomplishments. In the latter category, the ceremony recognizes the recipients of the 2011 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award, Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award, and the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence in Service to the Community and in Service to the University.

Brief biographies of the alumni honorees follow.

Fife served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation until his death. With his friend William E. Strickland Jr. (A&S ’70), Pitt trustee and president and chief executive officer of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, Fife transformed the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild—an organization that offered informal ceramics classes and a small exhibition space—and Bidwell Training Center—a vocational education program that served mostly displaced steelworkers—into the internationally recognized center of arts education and career training that it is today. The organization has improved the lives of numerous men and women and benefited Pittsburgh and communities throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. Fife also was responsible for directing the corporation’s efforts to replicate core Manchester Bidwell programs in such cities as San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Grand Rapids.

In 1968, Fife was one of 50 students admitted into the University’s Project A, an effort to increase the enrollment of underrepresented students at Pitt. As an undergraduate, Fife was passionate about addressing social inequities and advocated for the expansion of Black studies course offerings and the recruitment of more African American students, faculty, and staff.

After graduating from the University with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, Fife worked briefly as an account executive at Procter & Gamble. He joined the Bidwell Training Center as a program counselor in 1973, became vice president of operations in 1975, and, in 1999, rose to the position he held at his death. Fife served as an evaluator for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse from 1974 to 1975.

Fife was instrumental in securing funding for the Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s state-of-the-art campus, the Drew Mathieson Center for Horticultural and Agricultural Technology, the Harbor Gardens Park office building, and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, a multidisciplinary arts and learning center, gallery, and auditorium with a concert hall that is a mecca for international jazz artists.

A dedicated community servant, Fife was appointed to the City of Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment by Mayor Tom Murphy in 1994. Fife also served on the boards of the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation, the Manchester Academic Charter School, the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of City-County Government, and the Community College of Allegheny College, whose board’s Workforce Development Committee he chaired. At Pitt, Fife was a member of the Alumni Legislative Network and of the board of visitors of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Weis was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1973, gaining his current status as senior judge in 1988.

A decorated war veteran, Weis interrupted his undergraduate studies to serve during World War II. He fought in three campaigns with the Fourth Armored Division of General Patton’s Third Army in France. Weis was twice wounded in action, suffering near-mortal wounds on Nov. 11, 1944. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster; the Croix de Guerre, presented by the French Republic for acts of heroism in combat; and the National Order of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration.

After leaving the Army, Weis completed his undergraduate studies, earning a BA degree from Duquesne University in 1947. He received his JD from Pitt’s School of Law in 1950 and partnered with his father to form the Weis and Weis law firm. In his early career, Weis served as president of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County and as vice president of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

Prior to his tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Weis was appointed in 1968 to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and, a year later, was elected to serve on that court. In 1970, he was appointed to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Weis’ significant contributions include service as chair of both the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules of the Judicial Conference of the United States. He also chaired for the American Bar Association its Appellate Judges Conference, Technology in the Courts Committee, and Committee on the Design of Courtrooms and Court Facilities.

In 1989, then-Chief Justice of the United States William H. Rehnquist appointed Weis chair of the Federal Courts Study Committee to examine issues and problems facing the nation’s court system, the first study of its type to be undertaken in nearly 100 years. Under Weis’ leadership, the committee produced a monumental report—completed in just 15 months—that was presented to President George H.W. Bush, Chief Justice Rehnquist, the U.S. Congress, and the Conference of State Chief Justices. Many of the recommendations were enacted into law.

Weis authored the Mannington Mills v. Congoleum Corp. opinion in 1979, making him a sought-after member of many international legal forums. In the field of legal ethics, Weis authored a number of important opinions, including the 1981 dissenting opinion in Garden State Bar Association v. Middlesex County Ethics Committee, which was later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1991 majority opinion in Stretton v. Disciplinary Board reversed a lower court’s ruling that struck down a Pennsylvania judicial ethics rule barring judicial candidates from telling voters about their legal and political views.

Among Weis’ many honors include the American Judicature Society’s Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Philip Werner Amram Award, the Senator John Heinz History Center’s History Makers Award, and Pitt School of Law’s Distinguished Alumni Award. On the occasion of Weis’ 40 years of distinguished service to the federal bench, his judicial colleagues named the federal court library in Pittsburgh in his honor.

Weis has served as an adjunct professor in Pitt’s School of Law and as a member of the advisory board of the law school’s Center for International Legal Education.