As a freshman football player at Washington & Jefferson College in the 1980s, Jeffrey Cortopassi’s grades slipped, dashing his hopes of landing a spot in a competitive dental program.
He quit the team, refocused his efforts and pursued chemistry instead, finding comfort in the lab rather than on the field.
“He fell in love with the lab,” said his father, Robert. “He liked critical thinking. He loved to solve problems.”
Mr. Cortopassi, a scientist at Cecil-based generic drug giant Mylan Inc. whom family and friends described as a loving father, died Thursday at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., after a yearslong battle with acute myeloid leukemia. He was 48.
A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Cortopassi graduated from Bethel Park High School and Washington & Jefferson College before earning a master’s degree from West Virginia University.
He went to complete a terminal degree from the University of South Carolina in analytical chemistry and pursued post-doctorate work at Clark Atlanta University, where he met his wife, Phayonie “Fay” Nugent.
She asked him out.
“He had the most beautiful smile,” she said.
Soon after they started dating, Ms. Nugent’s best friend’s mother died. Though it had only been a few months, Mr. Cortopassi took vacation time to go with her to South Carolina for the funeral.
In another demonstration of his kind heart, his wife recalled how Mr. Cortopassi once offered to stay behind to clean up blood when her mother fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. The couple wasn’t even engaged yet, and when the Nugents returned, not a spot was in sight.
“That’s the thing that really defined the guy. When you need him, he’s there,” she said.
At Mylan, Mr. Cortopassi worked as a principal scientist, where he was responsible for learning the ingredients in a pill then reassembling it for generic form, relatives said.
Family friend, Mark Rutledge, said Mr. Cortopassi drove Mr. Rutledge’s children home from soccer just a couple of weeks ago.
“He was a fantastic father. He was just a very funny, genuine, caring individual.”
Besides his father and wife, he is survived by his mother Katherine; brothers Robert Jr., Glenn and Albert; sister Cindy; children Jeffrey Jr., Katrina, Roberto and Angelina; and step-children Shana and Storm.
Visitation is scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, followed by a funeral Mass at St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church in Morgantown. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Leukemia Society of America.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.