Eugene M. Kail, known for never doing anything halfway as an educator, entertainer and enthusiast for nonprofit causes, carried that sense of commitment right up to the not-bitter end. He wrote his own eulogy.
“Y’know, I could really get to like this being the center of attention,” the former teacher, actor and communications consultant said in remarks read by his older brother, Richard. “Too bad the price I had to pay to play the role.”
The humor employed for any occasion was one of the many trademarks of Mr. Kail, who indeed occupied the center of the room for many occasions, whether among friends and family, in the classrooms of Central Catholic High School as a student, teacher and administrator or onstage for scores of community theater performances in the region.
Mr. Kail was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease some 20 years ago. Before dying Friday at age 72 in his Squirrel Hill home from complications from the disease, he spent the past four years as a key fundraiser for the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania. He was co-chair of its annual walk and used his media and marketing skills to spread awareness of the foundation’s efforts.
In a video describing his battle with Parkinson’s, Mr. Kail said it took time after his diagnosis to learn he could still live “with perseverance, grace and purpose,” but many think he had those qualities all throughout life. Regardless of any challenges, he was dedicated to students and the Catholic church, among a large network of those he cared about and brought together, which also included the lifetime bachelor’s large extended family.
He had been bedridden for a year as a child with rheumatic fever while growing up in the Lower Hill District, and it helped turn him into a voracious reader. The reading made him knowledgeable and articulate, and his smarts and natural wit made him formidable as a debate student at Central Catholic in the early 1960s and in coaching the debate team there when returning as an English teacher after graduating from Duquesne University.
Mr. Kail was a natural at telling stories or singing in a rich baritone, and his comfort in public made him a staple into the 1990s as a performer at Little Lake Theater, McKeesport Little Theater, the Playhouse Theatre Co., South Park Conservatory Theater and numerous other venues for his talents in musical-comedy and occasional drama.
Those performances were the entertaining side of a man whose varied interests typically included wanting to help others. He left behind teaching and administrative positions with Central Catholic and the Diocese of Pittsburgh after two decades to start his own public relations firm based Downtown by the end of the 1980s. Many clients were church-related or nonprofits. He remained closely attached to Central for years as a board member.
“He was always a leader,” said Karl Skutski, a communications consultant who became a friend when renting Downtown office space to Mr. Kail. “He could sing, he could dance, he could act, he could write, he could do strategic planning for organizations — and he knew everybody.”
Mr. Kail took pride in his Lebanese background and looked back nostalgically about growing up the Lower Hill’s melting pot in the pre-Civic Arena days. He recently published a memoir about it, “Praying for Freckles: Growing up Maronite in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.” Despite his disease, he was in good enough health this month to do a reading from it at his church in Scott, Our Lady of Victory Maronite Catholic Church, where he was an active volunteer for years.
“He always wanted to see people succeed, whether in the classroom or life in general,” said a cousin, Patricia Kornick of Oakmont. “He embraced life, and he instilled that in other people — not to take opportunities for granted. He didn’t take commitments lightly.”
In that eulogy of his that was read Tuesday at Epiphany Church, Uptown, Mr. Kail alluded to how much he enjoyed the various compartments of his life — the work, the hobbies, the relationships, the entertainment. “As much as I’d love you to pity me, my life, with a few exceptions was pretty good,” he wrote. “I even enjoyed the hard times, because it was so much fun to figure out what I should do.”
In addition to brother Richard of Mount Pleasant, Washington County, Mr. Kail is survived by another brother, Robert, of Shadyside.
Memorial contributions may be made to either the Seton Center, 1900 Pioneer Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15226; the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania, 575 Lincoln Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15202; or the Central Catholic High School Scholarship Fund, 4720 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15213.
Funeral arrangements were by John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., Shadyside.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.