As a teen growing up on Pittsburgh’s North Side, Ray Lehman felt so compelled to help the struggling Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that he went door to door in his neighborhood collecting donations.
Years later, he would become that organization’s concert commentator, a role that allowed him to interview famous guest artists and share his love of classical music across three decades.
Mr. Lehman, a longtime broadcaster with what friends described as an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, died Friday at Good Samaritan Hospice in Cabot after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.
Raised on the city’s North Side, Mr. Lehman graduated from Perry High School, where he was first exposed to classical music.
“It was like an epiphany to him,” said friend and colleague John Eld. “It got him hooked on classical music, and he did everything he could to promote it and encourage it all his life.“
After stints in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Mr. Lehman worked at an art studio for a time, then in 1951 started his broadcasting career at WNCC, a small station in Barnesboro, Cambria County.
In that decade, and the two that followed, Mr. Lehman worked as a PSO commentator, and in 1969, won a Golden Quill for his work at WWSW. He voiced programs including “The Golden Hour” and “Tonight at Eight" and also worked at WSHH and WQED-FM.
For the PSO, he took his tape recorder to the hotel rooms of famous musicians and interviewed them for segments that aired during the concert’s intermissions.
“He loved getting to know these people and interacting with them and talking about music with them,” his son, Robert, said.
In 1976, the concerts were broadcast nationally.
Mr. Eld said he grew up listening to Mr. Lehman on WWSW, and later shared a studio with him as news director of that station.
“Ray was precise but relaxed, and he almost had a folksy kind of style, which I thought was very engaging,” he said.
Though he didn’t play an instrument himself, Mr. Lehman once confessed to former PSO musical director William Steinberg that he always wanted to be a conductor, Mr. Eld said.
Jim Cunningham, artistic administrator for WQED-FM and current host of PSO broadcasts, said his friend was “very important to the classical music scene” in Pittsburgh in that era.
The younger Mr. Lehman recalled his father often working overnight -- their paths crossing during breakfast -- and sometimes on Christmas morning.
“As he used to always say, ’When you turn the radio on, there’s somebody there,’” he said.
Still another kind of art, calligraphy, was his second love. Friends and relatives said he crafted birthday cards and was often called on to create retirement certificates and other honors.
“He was an artist through and through,” said his wife, Betty.
Mr. Lehman also was an elder at Elfinwild Presbyterian Church in Shalewr for more than 40 years. Those close to him said his life centered around the church and his family.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Betty Jean Wylie Lehman; his son, Robert Lehman of St. Louis; a daughter, Ruth Van De Carr of Seattle; and two grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Elfinwild Presbyterian Church, 3200 Mt. Royal Blvd., where a memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.