Obituary: Dominick 'Guy' Chappie / Pioneering radio announcer
Sept. 18, 1911 - Nov. 29, 2013
November 30, 2013 11:45 PM
Dominick Chappie in England during World War II.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By the time Dominick "Guy" Chappie showed up at Duquesne University in 1949 as a near 40-year-old, back in school courtesy of the GI Bill, he couldn't have known the place in Pittsburgh radio history he'd find himself.
Having chosen Duquesne for its journalism program, Mr. Chappie decided to see if he could work at the then-fledgling WDUQ, 90.5 radio station -- the college station that would become the city's first public radio station and eventually morph into what is now WESA.
The station realized what his family had known for years: His laid-back baritone voice was perfect for radio.
As a result, WDUQ made him its first-ever paid announcer, his niece, Nina DeFazio said.
"He had a great, velvety voice," she said. "And he had it to the end."
From a family with a history of long-lived lives -- his father was 92 when he died -- Mr. Chappie, an avid swimmer, was 102 when he died Friday at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon after contracting pneumonia.
The swimming helped keep his body fit, but it was his positive attitude that sustained his mind.
"He was joyful, if I had to pick one word," Mrs. DeFazio said.
Though his body eventually failed, his mind was still as quick as ever and he was "still reading the Post-Gazette every day without glasses until just a few weeks ago," she said.
That vitality allowed him in recent years to pass on even more details from the varied and vivid lives he led -- details his niece put together and read to family and friends at his 100th birthday celebration two years ago.
"We were down there for his 100th birthday," said Ralph Conde, a former co-worker at one of the radio stations Mr. Chappie worked at. "And I'll tell you, he was still the same chirping Chappie, talking to everybody. Amazing."
Born Sept. 18, 1911, in Braddock to his Italian immigrant parents, Antonio and Rosa Chiapetta, his family later changed their name to Chappie to Americanize it, his family said. Mr. Chiapetta originally came to America to work on the railroad but found his way to Braddock for a job at U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works mill.
It proved to be the uplifting job he sought, allowing the family to buy a home there that would stay in the family until just four years ago when Mr. Chappie finally sold it.
But when the Depression hit in 1929, like so many, Mr. Chiapetta lost regular work and began taking his newly graduated son, Dominick, to the mill every day with the hope that they would be chosen from the throngs to do a day's worth of work.
With work scarce, Mr. Chappie followed the path of so many others and began riding the railroad out west in search of work and a life. Hopping from town to town, he settled in Los Angeles for awhile before he returned home for a job at U.S. Steel's Homestead works in 1936.
But five years later, World War II broke out and Mr. Chappie enlisted in the Army and was placed in the medical supply division working out of Bristol, England, where he learned the terror of night raids by the Germans but never engaged in any direct combat.
After the war, he returned home before moving on again to North Carolina, where his voice was first noticed by a local radio station and he worked as an announcer before going to Duquesne. It was in North Carolina where the station manager first suggested that instead of Dominick that he go by his middle name, Guy, Mrs. DeFazio said.
That job and his work at WDUQ led to a succession of jobs at stations in Johnstown, Altoona, Washington and, finally, in 1964, WHJB in Greensburg.
There he became a jack-of-all-radio-trades, doing news announcing and commercials, covering sports and eventually selling advertisements for the station until he retired in 1978.
"Guy was just a great guy, I'll tell you what," said Mr. Conde, a fellow salesman at WHJB. "He was liked by everybody."
Though he had girlfriends over the years, Mr. Chappie never married, though he was "like a second dad to all of us" nieces and nephews, Mrs. DeFazio said.
Bob Bruno, one of those nephews and Mrs. DeFazio's brother, said when his family didn't have a car, it was always Mr. Chappie who provided the transportation when he was around, regularly taking the family on vacation.
"We went to Williamsburg, Va., and Washington and Jefferson's homes, Mount Vernon and Monticello, and to the beach a few times," Mr. Bruno said. "He's the reason why I developed a passion to travel and see the world."
A life of different careers and searching, whether it was on the rails during the Depression, or the mills and radio stations of Western Pennsylvania, provided a wealth of experience he passed on to his nieces and nephews.
"He did experience a lot," Mr. Bruno said. "And he was always there for me."
Friends will be received from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at the Schleifer Funeral Chapel, 534 Jones Ave., North Braddock. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at Good Shepherd Church in Braddock. Burial follows in All Saints Cemetery.
Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2579.