Obituary: George Saxon Sr. / Small business leader transformed Verona company

July 17, 1932 - Aug. 1, 2012

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George Saxon Sr. transformed Conco Systems Inc. from a two-man operation to a prosperous family business employing more than 200.

Mr. Saxon died at his Oakmont home Wednesday from congestive heart failure at the age of 80.

Mr. Saxon was born July 17, 1932, in the Greenfield area of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Allderdice High School in 1950 and the University of Pittsburgh in 1955 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Mr. Saxon's son, George Saxon Jr., said he chose mechanical engineering for a career "because he liked to build."

Mr. Saxon fashioned a lifelong career as a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur starting with a stint in the Army Corps of Engineers, then worked for General Electric, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox. He acquired Conco Systems Inc. in 1971.

"He was a small business advocate and he was the voice of small business in the 1980s," his son said. Mr. Saxon was a fellow in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, chairman of the Small Business Council and president of Small Business United. In 1982 he was recognized with the Governor's Export Award.

Mr. Saxon was a "self-made man. He started from nothing and grew [his] company into a very successful international company," said Richard Theobald, who had met Mr. Saxon in kindergarten and maintained a lifelong friendship with him. Mr. Saxon was the best man in Mr. Theobald's wedding and godfather to his first son. Mr. Theobald described Mr. Saxon's death as "a real loss to the family and myself."

Using equipment from Conco, Al Hovlan, who worked as head of production engineering for an electric utility company, said he was able to increase power plant efficiency, save $500 million annually and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by upwards of two percent.

With this technology, Mr. Saxon rapidly expanded the business and was soon exporting products to Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia.

Though he remained the president of Conco until his death, Mr. Saxon stepped down as CEO in 1992 and appointed his son, Edward Saxon, wanting "to delegate day-to-day operations" after undergoing a bypass surgery, George Saxon Jr. said.

Many family members made a career at the Verona corporation. His wife Frances Saxon, whom he met when they were both students at Pitt, majored in business administration and served as secretary-treasurer. All four of their children also have been active in the company, along with several grandchildren.

His son, George, described working for the family business as "exciting and dynamic ... When there was a business issue that happened, we took care of it. When there was a family issue that happened, we took care of it.

"We had regular Thanksgiving dinners until someone mentioned business, then it was a business dinner."

When Mr. Saxon wasn't working at the family business, he was an avid reader of military history. His father was killed in World War II, which sparked an interest in military history and "caused him to commit himself to being an active promoter of freedom and democracy," George Saxon Jr. said.

He was very politically involved and a staunch Republican. Mr. Saxon had the chance to meet several American presidents, largely through his work with Small Business United.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Saxon is survived by a daughter Regina "Ginny" Godish of Oakmont; three sons, Edward "Gunner" and Gregory, both of Oakmont, and George of Highland Park; a brother, Michael T. Lynches of Verona; and 16 grandchildren.

Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. today in St. Irenaeus Church, Oakmont.


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