There was an empty seat and a somber mood at Monday's Peters council meeting.
Longtime Councilman Robert L. Atkison Sr. died unexpectedly Sunday of a suspected heart attack at his Sherwood Drive home.
Council President Frank Arcuri asked for a moment of silence for the 81-year-old Mr. Atkison, a U.S. Army veteran who had served on council for 22 years.
Mr. Atkison was more than a councilman, his peers said; he was a fixture in local life for decades.
"He was an ambassador for Peters Township, an ally to the many organizations he supported," said Councilman James Berquist. "One thing we all admired about Bob was that you had no doubt about his opinion or why he was taking a stand on an issue."
Known as a plainspoken person who didn't take guff, Mr. Atkison always fought for what he thought was best for the township, Councilman Robert Lewis said.
"When I first met him, I thought he was a crusty old man," said Councilwoman Monica Merrell, breaking down in tears. "But he always supported me as his vice chair."
Mr. Atkison was in the middle of his sixth term on council, after a one-year retirement from politics in 2006. At the time, the retired mechanical engineer had served 16 years in office. He and his wife Ann had raised four children, he had just had heart bypass surgery and he felt at the time he was ready to retire.
But just a year later, he was pulled back into the fray, persuaded by his colleagues to run for another term on council.
"You need a person in there that understands the township, that understands the flavor of the township and knows what our goals are," he said in November 2007 after winning a write-in campaign to rejoin the seven-member council.
Mr. Atkison, who was assistant director of the township's ambulance service, for which he had volunteered for 30 years, had no time or tolerance for typical politicians. He commented last year that his calls to local state Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, about new Marcellus Shale regulations went unreturned.
"He didn't call me back, and I'm not surprised," he said in February 2012.
Mr. Atkison lived in Peters for 50 years and was an active member and past president of the Dormont-Mt. Lebanon Sportsmen's Club. He and Mrs. Atkison were married for 54 years.
Friends of Mr. Atkison's at the Veteran's of Foreign Wars Post 764 in Peters said he will be missed.
"He was a good man," said Post Commander Scott H. Huenefeld. "He was dedicated to our American servicemen and women."
A photo of Mr. Atkison shrouded in a black scarf hangs outside the VFW and ambulance service offices on Valleybrook Road. He was a "very honest individual" who could be stubborn at times, friends said.
"His heart was always in the right place," said Andrew MacArthur of Peters.
Mr. Arcuri said his favorite thing about Mr. Atkison was his sense of fair play and willingness to be respectful to all sides of a debate.
"Bob was Bob and you knew what you were getting from Bob," he said. "It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace him."
Friends will be received from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. today at Beinhauer Funeral Home, 2828 Washington Road, Peters, where services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday. The family suggested that contributions in Bob's memory be made to the Peters Township Ambulance Service, 300 Municipal Drive, McMurray, PA 15317. Tributes may be viewed and added at beinhauer.com.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.