Obituary: David J. Armstrong / Attorney helped Dickie, McCamey expand

June 18, 1931 - Jan. 5, 2014

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David J. Armstrong was still in high school and had more than one newspaper route when he decided to take a job at the J&L Steel mill on the South Side, where his father was employed. But even with the new job, he stayed in high school.

Handling a lot of different things at once would become a trademark of the man who eventually became president of the Pittsburgh law firm Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, helping that firm grow both through adding lawyers and through cases with national reach.

"He had a terrific capacity to learn a case very quickly," said James R. Miller, who met Mr. Armstrong in the mid-1970s and who would later also serve as president of Dickie, McCamey. The two men spent long hours together in those early years, flying to Tyler, Texas, and taking hundreds of depositions for an asbestos case involving client PPG Industries.

Mr. Armstrong enjoyed handling multiple complicated cases at once, working with other attorneys and then regularly taking the lead in the courtroom. "He was fearless in the courtroom," said Mr. Miller, who described his colleague as a perfect gentleman who was professional but tough in cross-examining witnesses.

Mr. Armstrong, who had been in failing health, died Sunday as he was being taken from his Downtown residence to UPMC Mercy after suffering cardiopulmonary distress, according to his wife, Phyllis Armstrong. He was 82.

A native of Hazelwood whose family later moved to Castle Shannon, he earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his law degree from Duquesne University.

But it wasn't quite that simple, of course. While in college and law school, he would hold different jobs at the mill and at banks in the area.

Then there was his personal life. He met his future wife during his junior year at Pitt and persuaded her to get engaged three weeks later. "I thought that would be a good idea," said Mrs. Armstrong, in a bemused tone. She was training as a nurse.

They flew to Winchester, Va., to get married during a short school break. At some point, he let her know that he was only 19 years old, which came as a surprise to her since he was almost a senior.

"I thought he was a real leader," she said.

It wasn't long before he began work at Dickie, McCamey. He was hired away for a few years to handle complicated antitrust work for Westinghouse Electric Co. "In those days, antitrust was a big deal," said Mr. Miller, who noted that such cases came with the threat of treble damages.

Mr. Armstrong later returned to Dickie, McCamey and helped it grow to more than 100 attorneys. "We became a national law firm," said Mr. Miller, referencing the types of cases and clients that began using the firm's services.

Mr. Armstrong stepped down as president in 1995, according to his wife, but continued practicing until a few years ago.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, David J. Armstrong Jr. of Boston; a daughter, Elaine B. Armstrong of McKees Rocks; a sister, Jeannine Armstrong of Columbus, Ohio; a brother, James Armstrong of California; and two grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. today in First Unitarian Church in Shadyside.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

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