Obituary: Judy Nees / World Affairs Council staffer called 'fixer' of organization

Nov. 16, 1934 - Sept. 8, 2013

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Judy Nees, the heartbeat behind the World Affairs Council for three decades and a key supporter of the Pittsburgh branch of the Navy League, died Sunday from complications of Alzheimer's disease. The Scott resident was 78.

The worlds of international affairs and the military can be politically tricky and male-dominated, and they were especially so when Ms. Nees joined the council staff in 1969. She learned to effectively navigate the territory and would later guide others, including Polly Bozdech-Veater, a newcomer to Pittsburgh when she became commanding officer at the U.S. Naval Reserve Center in North Versailles in 1984.

"She was a mentor to so many women. When I came to town it was an unknown atmosphere and she got me to know Pittsburgh," Ms. Bozdech-Veater said.

In her 30 years as administrator for the World Affairs Council until her retirement in 1999, Ms. Nees was known for standing by the door at the council's regular education programs and luncheons, greeting most visitors by name. She was "the warmest and most memorable person I've known in my career with the council," said longtime board member and attorney Dennis Unkovic.

"I have no idea how she remembered who everyone was. It wasn't just doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. It was everyone."

She had homey touches, bringing chocolate pecan pies and other homemade food to council meetings, which disguised related efforts to keep the nonprofit's office costs down. Her easygoing manner helped smooth over relations within the council, which had long been known for a conservative streak that it had to balance with attracting speakers and attendees of every political stance to its educational programs.

"She was very dynamic, extremely well organized and had a very good sense of humor," said attorney Buzz Hutchison, who first met Ms. Nees in the early 1980s via a support group for families who had lost children to cancer. "She was also a very good politician."

Judy Heuttner was raised in Avonworth by parents William and Emma. She moved around the country with her husband, an aerospace consultant, before returning to the Pittsburgh area after their divorce. One of their sons, William, died of leukemia at an early age.

While working for the World Affairs Council she also threw herself into work for the local council for the Navy League of the United States, a civilian education and support organization for sea services, which in the 1980s backed efforts to have a nuclear-powered submarine commissioned as the USS Pittsburgh in 1985. Again, Ms. Nees would become a chief fixer for the group, particularly after leaving the World Affairs Council in 1999, helping with everything from fundraising drives to finding housing for visiting sailors.

The USS Pittsburgh scholarship program, run by the Pittsburgh council of the Navy League, has raised $108,000 since 1985 for current and retired crew members and their families. At times Ms. Nees served as president, secretary and board member of the council.

And she was its "fixer" in every sense of the word. Known for giving Pittsburgh tours to friends of Ms. Bozdech-Veater -- fellow Navy captain retirees dubbed the "Old Birds" -- she also once had to have a water heater repaired in the captain's home while it hosted a handful of USS Pittsburgh crew members and Ms. Bozdech-Veater was traveling.

It was all part of her place among the bonds tying the Navy League, the crew of the USS Pittsburgh and their adopted city, Ms. Nees told The Pittsburgh Press in 1991.

"It's another thing that enhances Pittsburgh outside the city. It's a relationship that can do nothing but broaden the image of Pittsburgh on a national and international level," Ms. Nees said. "It's not only a social thing but it's a tie to Pittsburgh, its namesake, that gives the ship significance on a local level."

Ms. Nees died at the Asbury Heights assisted living community in Mt. Lebanon, where she moved about a year ago.

She is survived by her son Robert of Seattle.

Friends will be received from 4-8 p.m. today at Orion C. Pinkerton Funeral Home, 1014 California Ave., in Avalon, where a funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

The family suggest donations to the World Affairs Council, 500 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA, 15219-2510 or the USS Pittsburgh Scholarship Fund, Navy League, Pittsburgh Council, in care of Bill Braund, 1097 Covington Place, Allison Park, PA 15101.

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