Obituary: Thomas A. Jarzynka / Loyal deputy sheriff, nicknamed 'Jaws'

Oct. 26, 1952 - Aug. 6, 2012

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When Thomas A. Jarzynka and his brother Joseph, known as Josh, were in elementary school, they were asked to describe what they wanted to be when they grew up.

"Tom said he wanted to be a policeman, and Josh planned to be a fireman," their sister, Nancy Wood, recalled. "They both ended up doing what they wanted to do."

Thomas Jarzynka, an Allegheny County deputy sheriff for 34 years, died Monday at home after a battle with cancer. He was 59 and lived in Penn Hills.

Known around the courthouse by the nickname "Jaws," Mr. Jarzynka's last assignment was overseeing the third-floor "bullpen" in the County Courthouse. That is the name for the holding area where anywhere from 90 and 100 prisoners per day are confined as they arrive and leave for their court dates.

"In that job you are the liaison between the judges, who want all the inmates arriving in their courtrooms on time, and the prison officials, who have to transport them," Sheriff William P. Mullen said. Mr. Jarzynka was "invaluable and under-appreciated -- until you try to find someone to replace him," the sheriff said.

Mr. Jarzynka had been injured in an on-the-job traffic accident several years ago when the sheriff's van he was driving was struck broadside and flipped over. He returned to limited duty after hospitalization and therapy that eventually included multiple hip-replacement operations. He retired in 2009.

"He was a big guy, but jovial and well spoken with a great sense of humor," Sheriff Mullen said.

Mrs. Wood, who lives in Penn Hills, said her brother's off-duty hours centered around his children and other family members, but he had other interests as well. "He loved casino gambling and he enjoyed a poker game with his friends every now and again," she said.

"I know he liked his job, and he retired only because of his health conditions," Mrs. Wood said. Her brother's godfather, the late Paul Jarzynka, had worked as a sheriff's deputy and was a role model for his own career, she said.

Both Thomas, the deputy, and Joseph, the firefighter, "kept the worst parts of their jobs from me, because they knew I would worry," she said.

Mr. Jarzynka grew up in Pittsburgh's Polish Hill neighborhood, the son of the late Joseph A. Sr. and Pearl Stec Jarzynka.

He graduated from Schenley High School. An U.S. Army veteran, he served from 1972 to 1974 as a military policeman, spending some of that time in Germany.

His survivors, in addition to his sister, include a son Seth T., a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army serving at Fort Knox, Ky.; daughter Elizabeth A. "EJ," of Penn Hills; and brothers Joseph A. Jr. of Polish Hill, James L. of Lawrenceville, and David M., of Polish Hill.

Family and friends will be received from 2 to 9 p.m. today at the Walter J. Zalewski Funeral Home, 3201 Dobson St., Polish Hill. A funeral mass will be celebrated at 12:30 p.m. Friday at St. Bartholomew Church, 111 Erhardt Drive, Penn Hills.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Horizon Hospice, 2549 Mosside Blvd., Monroeville 15146 or to St. Bartholomew Parish.

obituaries

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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