Pitt Board Chair and Retired Chief Justice of Pa. Ralph J. Cappy Dies

Issue Date: 
May 11, 2009
Ralph J. CappyRalph J. Cappy

University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees Chair and retired Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ralph J. Cappy, 65, died May 1 at his home in Green Tree, Pa. A public memorial service was held at Heinz Chapel May 5 with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Pittsburgh William Joseph Winter officiating and memorial tributes offered by Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, current Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille, Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Pittsburgh attorney and Pitt law school alumnus Gary G. Gentile, and Richard A. Zappala, former principal and chair of The First City Company and cochair of The Pacem in Terris Institute Board of Governors.

“Ralph Cappy, who earned both of his degrees from Pitt, was totally committed to the University.  He made enormous contributions to our progress, as our Board Chair and in countless other ways,” Nordenberg said in a public statement he sent from China, where he had been meeting with alumni, shortly after he learned that Cappy had passed away. The chancellor cut short his trip to China to return to Pittsburgh and take part in Tuesday’s memorial service.

“As much as he will be remembered for his extraordinary legacy as Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice and as Pitt’s Board Chair, though, Ralph also will be remembered as a wonderful human being,” the chancellor continued. “His warm and welcoming personality defined him as a leader, made others eager to work with him, and stood at the center of his many friendships.

“Ralph Cappy was a powerful force for good in his personal and professional lives. In Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, and in far more distant places, his passing will be mourned, and he will be sorely missed,” Nordenberg concluded.

In statements published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s May 2 obituary article, Governor Rendell said that “[t]he Commonwealth has lost one of its finest public servants. Justice Cappy led the Supreme Court in deciding issues that have had a significant impact on the lives of every citizen. ...Our system of justice and our entire Commonwealth are better due to his service,” and Chief Justice Castille noted Cappy’s “deep and abiding love for the Supreme Court and for its mission to deliver justice to the citizens of Pennsylvania” and called him “a justice of tremendous integrity and a tireless worker and a great leader in creating programs that improved the administration of the Supreme Court and the many committees the Court supervises.”

Named a Distinguished Alumni Fellow by the Pitt Alumni Association in 2008, Cappy (A&S ‘65, LAW ‘68) was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1990 and appointed chief justice in 2003. He retired from the court on Jan. 7, 2008, and joined the private Downtown Pittsburgh law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC.

After graduating from Pitt’s law school, Cappy spent one year in private practice. From 1968 to 1978, he held various positions, including first assistant homicide attorney and then deputy director and chief public defender in the Office of the Public Defender in Pittsburgh. In 1978, Cappy was appointed to be a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and was elected to that court the following year. He later was appointed administrative judge of the court’s civil division, serving from 1986 to 1990.

Cappy served on the University’s Board of Trustees from 1992 until his death and was its chair beginning in 2003. He also was a member of the Pitt School of Law Board of Visitors, where he was a past chair. He served as a member of the UPMC Board of Directors beginning in 1998 and was its vice chair since 2003.

Among Cappy’s other honors were an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Widener University, the Pitt School of Law Distinguished Alumnus Award, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Citation of Merit, a Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Award, the Allegheny County Academy of Trial Lawyers Judicial Service Award, and designation as a Pitt Legacy Laureate, Pennsylvania State Police Man of the Year, Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police Man of the Year, Sons of Italy Man of the Year, and Italian Heritage Foundation Man of the Year. In 2007, he received the Harry Carrico Award from the National Center for State Courts, Williamsburg, Va. In addition, the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist appointed Cappy to the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction.

Cappy was admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 and was a member of the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and American Bar associations. He was elected a fellow of the American Bar and Allegheny Bar foundations in 1996.

Cappy received Bar Medals from both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Bar associations. The Pennsylvania Bar Medal was one of only nine bar medals awarded in the association’s 112-year history.