Obituary: Robert P. Conroy / Former city police sergeant proud of his Irish heritage

Oct. 18, 1923 - March 16, 2014

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So proud was Robert P. "Bobby" Conroy of his Irish heritage that for 64 consecutive years he marched in Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day Parade, usually with Division 9 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the self-proclaimed "Oakland Irish."

In 1956, he was a young police officer when he and 200 other men stepped off as scheduled despite 9 inches of snow and an official cancellation of the parade the preceding day. And he was among those who kept alive the parade's tradition on March 13, 1993, in spite of a blizzard that dropped 23.6 inches of snow by day's end. In 2010, he served as the parade's grand marshal.

But illness prevented Mr. Conroy, 90, a retired city police sergeant, from marching in Saturday's edition, the first time he missed participating since the parade's modern inception in 1950.

The next day, Sunday, he died in West Penn Hospital.

Mary Lou Conroy, Mr. Conroy's daughter with whom he had lived for the past seven years, saw some symbolism that her father didn't die on the day of the parade he loved or on St. Patrick's Day, his favorite holiday, on Monday, but right between the two.

The son of Irish immigrants from Galway, Mr. Conroy was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II during which he survived for nine months as a German POW, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service.

He joined the Pittsburgh police force in 1951 and retired in 1989.

"He loved the job," Ms. Conroy said. "They actually had to throw him off the job at the mandatory retirement age of 65."

Retired Pittsburgh narcotics Detective Barry Fox recalled being assigned to the old Zone 4 station in Oakland where Mr. Conroy was an established presence.

"Bobby was a delightful guy. He was a good guy, a gentle soul and was very helpful to us," said Mr. Fox, who worked as a plainclothes detective out of the station.

"He was an old-time beat cop and was like the mayor of Oakland. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. When we were looking for somebody or needed information, we would always stop and talk with Bobby. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Ms. Conroy said her father was so social that "there wasn't a place we went where he didn't know someone. No matter whether we were supposed to be somewhere for an hour it would take three because he would talk to so many people. He ran into people in Ireland that he knew when we went there."

So social was Mr. Conroy -- and such a big sports fan -- that after his retirement he and Mary Lou got jobs as ushers in the same section at the former Civic Arena. He worked there until he was 82, about the same age he completed two decades as an usher at St. Regis Church in Oakland.

Tragedy struck the family when another of Mr. Conroy's daughters, Patricia Ann Conroy, along with fellow Pittsburgh firefighters Thomas Brooks and Marc Kolenda, died on Valentine's Day 1995 while battling an arson house fire in Brushton.

"Every single day, faithfully, he would pray in front of her picture and bless it with holy water," Ms. Conroy said.

A religious man, he also daily said the rosary and watched Mass on television.

Mr. Conroy was a member of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, the Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

In addition to Ms. Conroy, he is survived by a son, Thomas J. Conroy of Oakland; another daughter, Eileen M. Conroy of Harrisburg; a granddaughter and a great-grandson.

Friends will be received at John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Ave., Shadyside, today and Wednesday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

A Mass will be celebrated at St. Regis Church Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Michael A. Fuoco: or 412-263-1968.

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