Obituary: Chuck Prine / Ryan Homes executive sought social justice

April 23, 1926 - Jan. 11, 2014


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Of the verbs that rightly follow the name Chuck Prine, "spearheaded" would begin the list. Of the nouns, social activist rises to the top.

It seems necessary that anyone would need more than 87 years to pack a life as richly as he did, but Mr. Prine, who died Saturday at his home in Mt. Lebanon after a brief illness, got it all in.

"Unbelievable guy," said Larry Swanson, executive director of Action Housing. "One of the unique people of the world. That's where you start" the list. "He was president of our board for five years and was just fantastically thoughtful about housing and integrating social services. He was the one who encouraged us to get into the supportive housing we're involved in today. He had a sense of the social mission in real estate."

Mr. Prine dedicated part of his life to social justice advocacy.

"He and my mom [Irma Cathcart Prine] pushed to have black teachers hired in Mt. Lebanon schools so it would be a more integrated community," said his daughter Barbara Prine of Burlington, Vt. "This was in the early '60s."

He worked for Ryan Homes as a developer of low- and moderate-income housing programs in Western Pennsylvania and eventually became a senior vice president.

"He lived by that Oliver Wendell Holmes quote -- that if you are not sharing the passion and action of your time, you are in peril of being judged not to have lived," Barbara Prine said. "He believed that all of humanity is bound up together."

A spotlight moment came in 2010 when he testified before the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging after a federal investigation revealed spotty regulation, oversight and accreditation in the continuing care industry. Mr. Prine was living at Covenant South Hills at the time of its bankruptcy.

In his testimony, Mr. Prine laid out four guidelines for better elder law: that 33 percent of the boards of continuing care facilities be represented by residents, that secure escrow accounts be established, that 30 percent of the financing for a facility be invested by the primary owner and that each state designate a single oversight agency.

Maurice Deul, who moved in next door to the Prines eight years ago, became president of the tenant council, which agitated to get representation on Covenant's board.

"He and I formed a liaison to see what could be done about changing things," Mr. Deul said. "Chuck was very forward about this. We examined the organizations that were looking to buy it [Covenant]. As soon as Concordia took over this facility, the tenant council had representation on the board and voting representation.

"Chuck and I would often go out to lunch just to chat about cabbages and kings. I could speak endlessly about him. To outlive Chuck is really hard."

In 1968, Mr. Prine was dashed into single fatherhood with six children aged 4 to 17 when his first wife was killed in a car accident on Christmas Day, said daughter Barbara. His second wife, Elizabeth Erskine, died of cancer in 1982. He was married to his third wife, Elizabeth Waite Prine, for 30 years.

An elder at the Bower Hill Community Church, he had served on the board of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, was a United Way man of the year and received a Pennsylvania Action Housing Award of Excellence, which reads: "For outstanding contribution to the Pittsburgh community in the fields of housing and neighborhood improvement."

"He raised all of us to be service-oriented and make social contributions," said daughter Janet Rivera of Gypsum, Colo. "One sister is a lawyer who works in legal aid. One sister is a doctor who established a clinic in the inner city. I'm a [retired] teacher who taught in jails."

Mr. Prine's hobbies included harness racing, birding -- with a life list of 800 species -- playing tennis, and collecting antique tools and miniature airplanes.

The author of "Planemakers of Western Pennsylvania and Environs," Mr. Prine donated his collection of more than 200 antique planes to the Heinz History Center.

Mr. Prine grew up in Squirrel Hill and attended and graduated from Princeton University after serving in the U.S. Navy. With a degree in English, he worked for 10 years at the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph covering the police, the city and county before becoming an editorial writer.

Besides his daughter Barbara, Mr. Prine is survived by daughters Dr. Linda Prine of New York City, Karen Prine of Berryville, Va., and Alison Prine of Burlington, Vt.; a brother, Calvin Prine of Granville, Ohio; a sister, Mary Helen Kelly of Tempe, Ariz.; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His son, Roger Prine of Charlottesville, Va., died in 2008.

Funeral services will be arranged by the Paul Henney Funeral Home in Bethel Park. A service will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Bower Hill Community Church in Mt. Lebanon.

Donations in his name can be made to The Neighborhood Academy in Stanton Heights.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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