Lawrence Grodsky, a nationally known motorcycle safety expert and author who taught thousands of riders to handle themselves on the roads, died Saturday on his bike in Fort Stockton, Texas, after being hit by a deer.
Lawrence Grodsky and his girlfriend, Maryann Puglisi, in August 2005 as they prepare to leave Washington, D.C., for a ride through the mountains of Virginia.
Click photo for larger image.
He was 55, and had been on his way from a safety conference in California to Pittsburgh for his mother's 85th birthday, said his sister, Marcia Grodsky.
"Larry was the most talented, experienced and competent motorcyclist in the country, but this is the one thing he knew he couldn't do anything about," said his girlfriend, Maryann Puglisi, with whom he lived in Squirrel Hill and Washington, D.C., and who helped run his business.
"Just a few weeks ago he said to me, 'That's how I'm going to go, it's going to be a deer.' He could deal with all the idiot drivers, but at night when a deer jumps in your path, that's it and he knew that."
Mr. Grodsky gave private and group lessons all over the country through his Pittsburgh-based company, Stayin' Safe Motorcycle Training. He also led trips in other parts of the world.
In 1988 be began writing the Stayin' Safe column for Rider magazine, a monthly publication based in Ventura, Calif.
"Larry made motorcycle safety interesting every month for 18 years," said managing editor Donya Carlson. "He had quite a loyal following. We're all still in shock."
Rider publisher Jim Hansen said the secret to Mr. Grodsky's appeal was that he never preached or scolded.
"My wife and I went on a guided motorcycle tour in Spain with Larry last year," said Mr. Hansen. "He had a camera mounted on his bike and had us wired for sound. He'd ride behind giving us pointers in such a way that you didn't take it as criticism. Then he'd show video clips of before and after, so you could really see the difference."
Mr. Grodsky also wrote travel pieces for the magazine. He was doing one at the time of his death about buying a used motorcycle on eBay on the West Coast and riding it across the country to sell at the other end of his trip.
"It was a 1997 Kawasaki police bike," said Ms. Puglisi. "He was excited because it was unusual."
Myron Cope, Mr. Grodsky's uncle, recalled that when ABC newsman Ted Koppel got a motorcycle from his wife as a gift, he sought out Mr. Grodsky for instruction.
"Larry went to Washington and gave him lessons on street riding," said Mr. Cope. In addition, he said, prizefighter Mike Tyson's managers hired Mr. Grodsky to give the boxer some pointers after one too many motorcycle wrecks.
"They flew Larry to Las Vegas and Beverly Hills and put him up in the top hotels, but Tyson never showed up for a lesson," said Mr. Cope.
Mr. Grodsky grew up in Monroeville and graduated from Gateway High School, where he was a champion wrestler and won a scholarship from Future Teachers of America. His sister said he fell in love with motorcycles while attending Ohio University, where he earned his teaching degree.
He taught high school and coached wrestling in Cambridge, Ohio, for several years, then returned to Pittsburgh. He worked at the Job Corps, where he designed a life-skills curriculum for young people called World of Work, and also produced a wrestling newsletter for a short time.
His love of motorcycles led him to become an early instructor with the fledgling Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Foundation, running a training site in Monroeville.
"We viewed him as the master," said Tony Capriotti of Verona, who trained as an instructor with Mr. Grodsky in 1993. "He was very intuitive, he had a sharp eye and could see small details of a student's weak spots."
From there, Mr. Grodsky branched off to form his own program.
"Nobody rode with him without a helmet and all the other proper safety equipment," said his sister. "His training courses were the gold standard. There are hundreds of people out there who say they owe their lives to him."
Mr. Grodsky took every opportunity to travel through Mexico, Central America and Spain, she said. "He spent years trying to master Spanish. That was his life struggle."
Her brother made friends wherever he went, she said. In recent years, he took up mountain bicycle riding with a group of enthusiasts on local trails.
He was also a generous soul, said Ms. Carlson. Last year, after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Mr. Grodsky auctioned off three private lessons on eBay and donated the $3,500 proceeds to relief efforts. He raised another $6,000 for Katrina relief in September at a charity ride in Westmoreland County.
"He died doing what he loved, but he loved living, too," said his sister. "He'd be happy not to have a sick old age, but he had a lot of years of fun still ahead of him."
In addition to his sister, girlfriend and uncle, Mr. Grodsky is survived by his parents, Harold and Violet Grodsky of Monroeville. The funeral will begin at 2 p.m. today at Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home, 2704 Murray Ave, Squirrel Hill. Visitation will be an hour earlier. Interment will be at Temple Sinai Memorial Park.
Correction/Clarification: (Published April 12, 2006) Lawrence Grodsky, who died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday, is survived by his parents, Harold and Violet Grodsky. Their last name was misspelled this obituary as originally published on April 11, 2006.
Sally Kalson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1610.