When Ish McLaughlin was a teen, he had a summer job as a bricklayer in a steel mill, which allowed him to examine the vast building up close.
That's when the Swissvale youth decided to become an engineer, and not just a "nerdy, detail-oriented engineer, but a man with vision and tremendous business acumen, who could see the whole picture, not just from point A to point B but point A to point Z," said Jack Mascaro, a close friend and head of Mascaro Construction Co.
Mr. McLaughlin, who moved up from a job as an estimator to become president of Dick Corp., the Jefferson Hills construction company, died Thursday of cancer at UPMC Montefiore. He was 79.
"The Pittsburgh construction family lost a legend [Thursday] in Ish McLaughlin," said Jack Ramage, executive director of the Master Builder's Association of Western Pennsylvania.
Along with improving the quality of life locally "by being involved in constructing some of our landmark buildings, he is remembered for his efforts in mentoring many of the construction executives in our region."
In construction, most companies are family owned, and Dick, founded in 1922 by Noble Dick, was no exception. But in 1987, Mr. McLaughlin was tapped by Mr. Dick's grandsons, Douglas and David, to become the only non-family member to head the company, a position he held until his retirement in 1993.
"He was our leader," said Douglas Dick, chairman and CEO of Dick Building Co.
"He was the one who made the company tick. My dad was in the process of transitioning out of the job, and David and I were just learning the business. Ish was a unique personality, a great deal maker who never took no for an answer."
By the time Mr. McLaughlin, of Shadyside, retired in 1993, the company had expanded from a regional contractor based in Jefferson Hills to one of the largest construction companies in the United States, growth that many credit to Mr. McLaughlin.
Born in Braddock, he was named Aloysius, after his father, a bricklayer who moved the family to Swissvale and became active in local politics there. The younger McLaughlin attended Saint Vincent College and the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. By his junior year, he'd already been hired as an estimator by Dick and began a rapid rise through the company.
During Mr. McLaughlin's tenure, Dick's projects included the award-winning restoration of Union Station in Washington, D.C., the Pittsburgh International Airport, the Hillman Library and the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station.
"In the early 1980s, the federal government went on a big post office construction campaign and Ish, with his incredible business smarts, had a strategy," said Mr. Mascaro. "No one could bid against him. Anyone can create a low number for a project, but he had the right number."
His ability to spot young talent, and nurture it, was legendary.
"They all didn't come from MIT or Harvard, either," Mr. Mascaro said. "These were kids whose fathers poured sidewalks in Dormont, or whose mothers were bookkeepers for the paving company. He'd find these young people, and they'd become stars."
One of his proteges was Alex Sciulli, now senior vice president at Highmark.
Mr. McLaughlin's wife, Mary Lou, visited Mr. Sciulli, then 32, when he worked in the city water department, asking his assistance in connecting Ronald McDonald Family House -- which provides free lodging for families of transplant patients -- to the city's water supply.
"I said 'yes, I'll take care of it right now,' and she must have gone home and raved to Ish, who showed up at my office the next day to thank me."
And from then on, "he became like a father figure to me."
Another one-time protégé at Dick, Les Snyder, now president of his own construction company, i+icon, remembered how much time Mr. McLaughlin spent with younger engineers, teaching them not just the nuts and bolts of construction, but a strong work ethic and willingness to put in extra hours to see a project through.
"Some of us young engineers would be thinking, 'Oh, it'd be nice to leave work early this Friday,' and he'd say one of his 'Ish-isms' -- 'That's why they invented electricity -- so you can work all day and all night,' " Mr. Snyder said.
After his father was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, Brendan McLauglin drew up a list of the 25 things he loved most about his father.
"There were things like, how to be a great father, how to choose a good wife, be a great husband, but there were also other things -- he was a crazy perfectionist, and there was only one way to wash a car, or spend money, or fix stuff. He taught me how to work hard and gave me a good work ethic. He was my father, mentor and best friend."
Besides his son and wife -- with whom he celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary this summer -- he is survived by a daughter, Mary Beth Leech of Squirrel Hill; another son, Aloysius "Ish" McLaughlin III of Summit, N.J.; and eight grandchildren.
Viewing will be at McCabe Brothers Funeral Home, 6214 Walnut St., Shadyside, Sunday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A Mass will be celebrated at Sacred Heart Church, 310 Shady Ave., Shadyside at 10 a.m. Monday, to be immediately followed by a service at Calvary Cemetery.
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org.