Pitt Alumnus, Trustee, and Former Board Chair William S. Dietrich II, Who Gave the University the Single-Largest Gift in Its History, Dies

Issue Date: 
October 10, 2011
William S. Dietrich IIWilliam S. Dietrich II

University of Pittsburgh alumnus, trustee, and former Board chair William S. Dietrich II—a well-known and highly respected business leader, investor, author, and philanthropist who recently gave the largest single gift to Pitt in its 225-year history, a $125 million fund—died Oct. 6 in Pittsburgh after an extended illness. He was 73.

Mr. Dietrich’s pledge to Pitt was one of the 10 largest gifts made by an individual to a public university in the United States. His gift to Pitt took the University’s $2 billion “Building Our Future Together” capital campaign past the $1.85 billion mark. In recognition of Mr. Dietrich’s gift, Pitt’s Board of Trustees will formally vote on a resolution at its Oct. 28 meeting to name the University’s largest school the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, in honor of Mr. Dietrich’s father.

Mr. Dietrich’s generosity was celebrated during a special ceremony at Pitt’s Sept. 24 football game against Notre Dame, when the Heinz Field crowd, led by University Trustee and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino, gave him a standing ovation and his gift to Pitt received national television coverage. The naming of the School of Arts and Sciences after his father was announced through the unfurling of a 10-story banner hung from the University’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning, the tallest academic structure in the Western Hemisphere. And just two days before his death, Mr. Dietrich received the first two diplomas to be issued by the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, diplomas memorializing the work that William Dietrich himself had done to earn graduate degrees from the University in the early 1980’s.

Mr. Dietrich earned both his MA and his PhD in political science from the University of Pittsburgh. He had been a member of Pitt’s Board of Trustees since 1991 and served as the Board’s chairperson from 2001 to 2003. He also had served as the chair of the Board’s Audit, Investment, and Conflict of Interest committees.

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated, “Bill Dietrich’s passing is a tremendous loss not only to Pitt’s Board, where he was known for his determined commitment to academic excellence, but also within the broader business and civic community, where he was tireless in his efforts to contribute to the betterment of the Southwestern Pennsylvania region. Speaking for myself, Bill was a good friend and an inspiring role model, as well as one of the University community’s favorite people. The impact of his extraordinary generosity will be felt by faculty and students throughout this University for countless generations to come.”

In commenting on his gift, which was announced on Sept. 22, Mr. Dietrich had said, “I am making this investment in the University of Pittsburgh for a number of reasons. As a graduate who personally benefited from my own studies at Pitt, I want to ensure that the University can continue to provide educational opportunities of the highest quality to its undergraduate and graduate students. As a citizen of Southwestern Pennsylvania, I want to help secure the future of one of this region’s most important institutions and hope that this gift will encourage others to join with me in supporting the University. And as someone who has seen Pitt’s transformation into a national and international force in higher education from the special vantage point of a Trustee, I want to recognize the extraordinary progress that has been made by the University, particularly during Mark Nordenberg’s 16-year tenure as Chancellor.”

A Legacy of Business Success, Community Impact, and Uncommon Generosity

After graduating from Princeton University in 1960, William Dietrich served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves before joining Dietrich Industries, Inc., the company founded by his father. Mr. Dietrich assumed responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the company in the mid-1960’s and in the process transformed Dietrich Industries from a small steel warehouse and distribution business into the nation’s largest manufacturer of light metal framing for the construction industry. In 1996, Worthington Industries bought Dietrich Industries and asked Mr. Dietrich to remain as a director, a position he held until his retirement in 2008.

The University unfurled a banner from the 16th to the fifth floor of the Cathedral of Learning to announce the naming of Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences after William. S. Dietrich II’s father, Kenneth P. Dietrich. Pitt also honored William Dietrich during a special halftime ceremony on Sept. 24 at the Pitt-Notre Dame football game.The University unfurled a banner from the 16th to the fifth floor of the Cathedral of Learning to announce the naming of Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences after William. S. Dietrich II’s father, Kenneth P. Dietrich. Pitt also honored William Dietrich during a special halftime ceremony on Sept. 24 at the Pitt-Notre Dame football game.

It was while he was leading Dietrich Industries through a period of significant growth that Mr. Dietrich earned his graduate degrees from the University. A student of both history and international economics, he was a regular contributor to the Pittsburgh Quarterly. Mr. Dietrich also was the author of two books: In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: The Political Roots of American Economic Decline, published in 1991 by the Penn State University Press, and Eminent Pittsburghers: Profiles of the City’s Founding Industrialists, a collection of biographical essays published in 2011 by Taylor Trade Publishing. At his death, he was in the process of writing a third book, to which he had given the title American Recessional: The U.S. Decline and the Rise of China.

Mr. Dietrich was well known for his wide-ranging civic commitments. In addition to his service on the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees, he has served on the Boards of Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Chatham University, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Growth Alliance, the UPMC Health System, and the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Current Pitt Board Chair Stephen R. Tritch noted at the time of the Sept. 22 announcement of the $125 million gift, that Mr. Dietrich was an Eagle Scout and “often stated that Scouting had a lasting impact on his life. Certainly, that is seen in his unfailing willingness to lend a helping hand to others, through his philanthropy and through the many community leadership responsibilities he discharged so effectively.”

A legacy of Mr. Dietrich’s life is his exceptional, and exceptionally well-targeted, philanthropy. The source of the fund that will benefit the University of Pittsburgh is The Dietrich Charitable Trusts, which are charitable remainder trusts created by Mr. Dietrich that own assets principally generated by the 1996 sale of Dietrich Industries. With Mr. Dietrich’s passing, the assets of these trusts will fund a new charitable organization, The Dietrich Foundation, which will administer the fund benefiting Pitt.