Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, who retired from the court Jan. 7, 2008, died last night at his home of an apparent heart attack. He was 65.
The former justice joined the state Supreme Court in 1990 and became chief justice in 2003. He died last night as he was preparing to leave his home in Green Tree for a social engagement, according to Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.
When he failed to arrive, friends discovered his body at home. The cause of Mr. Cappy's death is not known, but he recently underwent surgery for blocked arteries.
Chief Justice Castille said the Supreme Court is in a state of shock and expressed sympathy to Mr. Cappy's widow, Janet Cappy, and his family.
"Ralph Cappy had a deep and abiding love for the Supreme Court and for its mission to deliver justice to the citizens of Pennsylvania," he said. "He was 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.
"We are deeply saddened by his untimely passing."
Details of arrangements were not immediately available this morning.
Mr. Cappy began his judicial career in 1978, when he was appointed to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, where he served in its Family, Criminal and Civil divisions. From 1986 to 1990, he served as administrative judge of the Civil Division, where he was noted for streamlining its operations and eliminating case backlogs.
Mr. Cappy also was a former Allegheny County chief public defender. After leaving the Supreme Court, he joined the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, where he was a member of its commercial litigation practice.
He also was chairman of the University of Pittsburgh board of trustees. He was a graduate of Pitt and its law school.
"I am shocked and saddened by the sudden death of former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy. The Commonwealth has lost one of its finest public servants," Gov. Edward G. Rendell said today.
"Justice Cappy led the Supreme Court in deciding issues that have had a significant impact on the lives of every citizen. It is not an exaggeration to say that actions taken under Ralph Cappy's leadership led directly to resolving Pennsylvania's medical malpractice crisis. Our system of justice and our entire Commonwealth are better due to his service," the governor said.
Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, in a statement, also hailed Mr. Cappy's contributions to the university.
"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," said Mr. Nordenberg, who described Mr. Cappy as a friend and cut short a trip to China after learning of his death.
"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," the chancellor said.
"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."
Jim Roddey, chairman of the Alleghey County Republican Party and a Pitt trustee emeritus, said, "I think being the chair of the board of trustees at Pitt meant more to him than being chief justice of the court."
Mr. Roddey, who served with Mr. Cappy on the Pitt board, said he was very supportive of Mr. Nordenberg and was instrumental in Mr. Nordenberg's hiring.
"He was very intent on seeing Pitt move up in the rankings and prestige and just as a place of excellence in general. If you see what's happened in the number of applications and the upward trend in SAT scores you can see that success.''
Mr. Cappy also played a major role in the big increase in fund-raising at Pitt that helped produce those kinds of results, Mr. Roddey said. He also was a supporter of the university's athletic programs, said Tom VanKirk, chief executive officer of Buchana Ingersoll & Rooney.
Mr. Cappy was an avid golfer and tennis player, friends said, and also enjoyed riding motorcycles.
"Ralph Cappy will not only be remembered for his tremendous contributions to the legal community, education and health care, he will be remembered for being a great person and leader to those who were fortunate to know him," Mr. VanKirk said.
"Personally, I have known Ralph for more than 10 years, and am fortunate to be able to call Ralph and his wife, Janet, good friends. We will miss a brilliant man and a wonderful person."