Obituary: Donald P. Fusilli Jr. / Passionate engineer, lawyer and former CEO

Oct. 1, 1951 -- May 17, 2011

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Donald P. Fusilli Jr., former president and CEO of Michael Baker Corp., died Tuesday morning of brain cancer at his Adams home. He was 59.

Mr. Fusilli, who held engineering and law degrees, maintained as active a schedule -- professionally and personally -- as the disease permitted, said John Paganie, his brother-in-law, including traveling to Cleveland in March to see Villanova University play in the NCAA basketball tournament and sitting in on conference calls while undergoing chemotherapy.

"He was on the phone while someone was injecting the chemo drugs into him," Mr. Paganie said. "I've never seen anybody more passionate about business than him.

"He lived his life the way I think a lot of us would like to."

A Wilmerding native, Mr. Fusilli joined Michael Baker as an assistant engineer in 1973 after earning a civil engineering degree from Villanova.

He had a job offer from the U.S. Patent Office but chose the Moon engineering firm to stay close to his girlfriend, Jennifer J. Keffer.

They were married the following year.

After earning a law degree at night from Duquesne University in 1979, Mr. Fusilli was named Baker's general counsel in 1984. He was put in charge of Baker's energy business in 1994, "where he really brought that business back into profitability," Baker spokesman David Higie said.

He was named president and CEO in 2001, overseeing Baker's recovery from a problem-plagued contract at an Orlando, Fla., theme park.

Mr. Fusilli took medical leave in January 2005 to undergo brain tumor surgery, returning in time for the company's shareholder meeting three months later. He left Baker in September 2006, a year after the company announced accounting problems that eventually led it to restate its earnings going back to 2001.

He was CEO of David Evans Marine Sciences -- a Portland, Ore., company that surveyed seabeds -- in 2008 and in 2009 formed his own consulting firm, The Telum Group. He served on several corporate boards, including that of RTI International Metals.

RTI Vice Chairman, President and CEO Dawne S. Hickton said Mr. Fusilli's knowledge of the energy business was a big reason why the metals producer assisted in the cleanup of the 2010 Gulf oil spill. RTI provided steel pipe used to suction off the leaking oil.

"He brought a lot to the table," Ms. Hickton said. "He was instrumental in shaping our energy strategy."

Mr. Fusilli was a director of the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America, where he was a driving force behind the annual dinner honoring Eagle Scouts.

Mr. Higie said Mr. Fusilli, a Boy Scout in his youth, became interested in the organization after meeting scouts who were studying engineering at the function.

"The tipping point for him was attending that Eagle Scout dinner and meeting all these young men who were becoming Eagle Scouts who also had an interest in engineering," Mr. Higie said.

Bruce McDowell, the council's director of special projects, said Mr. Fusilli referred to the cancer as his "Mount Everest challenge." Everyone has one, and the lesson to be learned from it "is keep climbing," Mr. McDowell recalled Mr. Fusilli telling him.

"I thought that was a great metaphor for his life. He kept climbing," he said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Fusilli is survived by his father, Donald P. Fusilli Sr., of Wilmerding; a sister, Donna Paganie, of Akron, Ohio; and his brother, David Fusilli, of Clarion.

Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m today at the McDonald-Aeberli Funeral Home, 238 Crowe Ave., Mars.A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. Friday at the St. Kilian Church worship site at the corner of Clark and Cherry streets in Mars.

Burial will be at Cedarview Memorial Park in Clarion.

Memorial contributions can be made to the St. Kilian Church Building Fund, 7076 Franklin Road, Cranberry, PA 16066 or to the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Flag Plaza, 1275 Bedford Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15219-3699.

Len Boselovic: or 412-263-1941.


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