A man of strong passions, Martin Lazzaro reserved some of his most ardent feelings for the men, women and children whose personal tragedies he took to heart, and fought to remedy.
Mr. Lazzaro, a personal injury lawyer for more than two decades, kept in mind that many of his clients would never again lead healthy, productive lives and he made it his personal mission to do what he could to help, said Sharon Mariani.
"He was always there to fight for the injured, the downtrodden," said Mrs. Mariani, who has been a friend of Mr. Lazzaro and his wife, Lois, for two decades. "He took it as, 'You suffered this and I have to make this right for you, you have to live with this injury for the rest of your life and I have to make sure I handle this case so you have enough to go on in life.' "
Mr. Lazzaro of McCandless died Wednesday. He was 54.
The son of Shirley and the late Roland Lazzaro, Mr. Lazzaro was the grandson of Italian immigrants who worked in Pennsylvania coal mines in the early 1900s, and he used that blue-collar background both as the means and the motivation to earn a place in the professional world.
In his family, getting an education meant earning a path toward a better life, and he was raised to work hard toward that goal, friends said.
"His family made sure he was well-educated," Mrs. Mariani said. "He was a brilliant man and he was very hard-working, and he never lost sight of where he came from and he never lost sight of where he wanted to go."
Working at different times as a grill boy at McDonald's, a car salesman, a bus boy, a surveyor, a coal miner, an intern at the Allegheny County District Attorney's office and an engineer to pay for school, Mr. Lazzaro first graduated with honors from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Engineering, followed by Duquesne University's School of Law in the mid-1980s, according to Mr. Lazzaro's biography and his law partner Gary Ciao.
In 1990, he opened the Lazzaro Law Center, also known as Martin E. Lazzaro & Associates, in Ross and was joined by Mr. Ciao and by Chris Copetas.
When advocating for clients -- many of whom were the victims of traffic accidents, traumatic brain injuries and faulty insertion of orthopedic hardware -- Mr. Lazzaro accepted their personal tragedies as his own, and would shoulder their burden in its entirety, Mr. Ciao said.
"I never encountered a man of greater integrity, I never encountered a man of greater passion and I never met a man more dedicated to finding a solution when it appeared there was none," said Mr. Ciao, who worked with Mr. Lazzaro for 22 years. "I will hear the eloquence of his words every day of my life."
As Mr. Lazzaro built a successful law practice, he enjoyed its rewards but also reveled in sharing them with others. In addition to collecting and driving exotic automobiles -- he purchased the first Rolls Royce Phantom sold in North America, then mounted a vanity license plate reading "1-800-I-GOT-HIT" on it -- he loved to throw parties for friends and family.
"He was an extremely bright man and a very good attorney but that's minimal in comparison to the human being he was," said WWE World Heavyweight champion and longtime friend Bruno Sammartino, who said Mr. Lazzaro was like a son to him. "This was a man who had the biggest heart of any human being I have known in my life -- he was such a kind, kind man."
The parties, one in the summer and another around Christmas, began rather modestly with some friends and their children at the Lazzaro home, Mrs. Mariani said. B
ut over the years, the parties and the friends outgrew that space, and festivities were moved to the Wildwood Golf Club in Allison Park, where the children would swim and the adults would enjoy music and so much food that guests had to be sent home with leftovers.
"Marty loved to be surrounded by family and friends, and he loved to eat and he loved to laugh and he loved to make sure everyone around him had plenty to eat and plenty of laughs," Mrs. Mariani said.
That generosity extended to numerous charities, including the American Cancer Society, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction, and the Best of the Batch Foundation, among others.
After meeting Mr. Lazzaro 12 years ago, former Steelers player Charlie Batch said, the two became fast friends and Mr. Lazzaro became an important supporter of the foundation's work of boosting the academic achievement of students from struggling neighborhoods.
"He was a bigger service leader than what people know, and he never wanted the credit," Mr. Batch said. "He said, 'As long as it's helping the community, you go make it happen -- I don't want the credit.' Not many people knew that about him."
Beyond his support for the foundation, Mr. Batch said, was his support as a friend.
"If I needed him, he was there," Mr. Batch said. "If my family needed him, he was there. He was not a friend, he was family."
Mr. Lazzaro is survived by his wife and two sons, Martin Anthony and Nicholas, all of McCandless; brother Roland; and sisters Kristin Wiedemann, Lisa Roessler and Daria Brown. Visitation will be Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. at Simons Funeral Home at 7720 Perry Highway. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in St. Sebastian Church at 311 Siebert Road in the North Hills on Monday at 10 a.m.
Contributions may be made to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at www.pittsburghfoodbank.org in memory of Martin E. Lazzaro, Esq.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org.