Washington County attorney Melvin B. Bassi boasted such a formidable work ethic that even while on his deathbed last week, hooked up to an intravenous line at a hospital, he reviewed documents and instructed his staff.
Mr. Bassi, a fixture for decades in Washington County's business community as a private-practice attorney, bank president, solicitor and, briefly, commissioner, died unexpectedly on Wednesday at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. He was 80.
As he worked from his hospital bed at 7:30 a.m. the day before he died, Mr. Bassi was accompanied by two of his four sons, Keith and Bradley, both of whom had joined him years earlier at Bassi, McCune & Vreeland.
Keith Bassi, 50, of Jefferson, Fayette County, described Mr. Bassi as a "lawyer's lawyer" and said he and his brothers learned the value of hard work, critical thinking and higher education from their whirlwind of a father, who would often present legal cases over dinner.
Mr. Bassi, who lived in Monongahela with his wife of 58 years, Lillian, entered the hospital April 28 with abdominal pains. He had just returned from a vacation to Tennessee where he indulged his fascination with the Civil War by touring battlefields.
Keith Bassi said doctors had not yet determined what caused his father's death.
"We were still in the dark as to what the actual diagnosis was, but we knew there were some serious issues that had come up relatively quickly in a relatively short period of time," Mr. Bassi said Friday.
During his multiple careers mixing private-sector work, public positions and coaching, Mr. Bassi was Washington County solicitor from 1981 to 1995 and solicitor for the Charleroi School District for 45 years. He was also chairman of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority from 1956 to 1970.
He also served as a trustee of Washington & Jefferson College for 25 years, managed youth baseball for 18 years and served as a football referee. Mr. Bassi played a key role in helping to raise $1.5 million for the Mon Valley YMCA in the 1980s.
Mr. Bassi practiced law for more than 50 years and joined Charleroi Federal Savings Bank as a director in 1958, becoming president five years later and serving until 2000. He remained chairman of the board.
Mr. Bassi was born and raised in Charleroi. His mother worked at a travel agency translating for Italian immigrants and his father toiled in the mills.
While at Charleroi High School, Mr. Bassi courted the woman who would become his wife. She attended Bentleyville High School, and the two became acquainted at a football game.
Keith Bassi said his father talked about catching the bus from Charleroi to Bentleyville and then walking two miles to his date's farmhouse. The bus schedule was unforgiving, and Mr. Bassi often had to sprint after the bus to make it home.
After college, Mr. Bassi joined the U.S. Navy. He was a signalman on a destroyer in the Pacific and for a time was stranded on an island when a typhoon grounded his ship.
Influenced by an aunt who taught high school, Mr. Bassi became the first in his family to graduate from college. His alma mater was Washington & Jefferson, from which he graduated in 1949.
Keith Bassi said his father decided to go to law school after a Fortune 500 company offered him a job, but only if he dropped the "i" from his last name. Mr. Bassi, of course, refused, "and realized at that point that he had to cut his own swath in life and would have to make it on his own."
Mr. Bassi got his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1952 and went into general practice.
Through his work, he became acquainted with the president of Charleroi Federal, who was preparing to retire. She took a liking to Mr. Bassi and eventually tapped him as her successor, Keith Bassi said.
Not everything went that smoothly. On his first day as president, Mr. Bassi and the bank's officers assembled at the vault and accidentally set off the alarm, leaving him to persuade the police that they had a valid reason to be there, Keith Bassi said.
In 1994, Mr. Bassi, a Democrat, took his first and only crack at politics when he was appointed to serve out the term of former Washington County Commissioner Frank R. Mascara, who was elected to Congress. Five Common Pleas Court judges selected him from a pool of 49 people.
Mr. Bassi served in 1995 and then stepped down. He tutored current Commissioner Diana Irey, who was coming in as he was going out.
"Mr. Bassi was always someone who wanted to support other people. He never wanted to be in the limelight himself. He always wanted to help others," Mrs. Irey said.
Among those Mr. Bassi supported were children in sports. Mrs. Irey recalled a time two years ago when Mr. Bassi offered kind words to her teenage son after he had a rough game.
"His mornings started very early and there were very few nights when he was home. After a coaching round at the Little League practice field, he would literally go back to the office and on occasion attend meetings that needed to be attended in the evening for municipal purposes," Keith Bassi said.
Mr. Bassi described his father as authoritative, understanding and silver-tongued, an attorney who was always prepared and tenacious. Indeed, in the early 1990s as Washington County solicitor, he strenuously fought a lawsuit filed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to review a commissioner's cell phone bills.
Upon the Post-Gazette winning the case on appeal, Mr. Bassi said: "All the results of Orwell's '1984' have come to full fruition in 1994. The worst thing is, they have substituted the media for big brother in government."
Although he had his serious side, Mr. Bassi also had a sense of humor. In 1995 he and Keith toured Italy together. Mr. Bassi tried to speak Italian everywhere he went. It didn't work.
"They would look at me and in perfect English say, 'What is he trying to say?' " Keith Bassi recalled. His father could only laugh.
In addition to his wife and son Keith, Mr. Bassi is survived by sons Bradley of Carroll, Mitchell of Adams, and Neil of South Strabane; and a sister, Beverly Green, of Charleroi.
Friends will be received today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Schrock-Hogan Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Charleroi. A funeral service will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at the Christ Lutheran Church in Charleroi.
Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1962.