Obituary: Sally M. Haas / Enthusiastic advocate for Pittsburgh airport corridor

May 27, 1954 - Dec. 27, 2012

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Sally M. Haas, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, underwent knee replacement surgery on Dec. 10 and was progressing nicely through a lengthy rehabilitation routine.

But so determined and passionate was she in promoting the economic vitality of the airport corridor that she planned to push herself even further and use a walker to attend a news conference Friday morning with federal, state and local officials in an effort to fend off efforts to close the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon.

But late Wednesday night Ms. Haas, 58, suffered a pulmonary embolism. Shortly thereafter, early Thursday morning, she died in St. Clair Hospital.

In her memory, Gov. Tom Corbett asked for a moment of silence to begin the news conference she had hoped to attend.

"I don't think the 911th had a stronger supporter than her," Mr. Corbett said.

Her work in supporting the airport area was beyond compare, added Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

"Much of the growth and much of the dynamism we see in this corridor and in this region that continues to happen in and around the airport corridor is because of her. She's going to be sorely missed, there's no question about that.

"Her legacy really is she was able to work together with so many different groups, so many different people," he said.

And in a statement, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said: "I'm deeply saddened to hear of Sally Haas' passing. She was a stalwart advocate for the 911th Airlift Wing and the entire Western Pennsylvania military community.

"Sally was someone who saw the economic potential of Western Pennsylvania and showed true leadership for the business community."

Ms. Haas grew up in Baldwin and graduated in 1972 from Baldwin High School. She worked as an executive assistant at Gulf Oil Co. in 1973 and met her future husband, Allan L. Haas, during auditions for a community theater group in Baldwin.

They married in April 1976 and relocated numerous times -- Virginia; Wichita, Kan.; Philadelphia; Stuttkart, Germany; and finally back to Pittsburgh in the late 1980s -- because of his job in aviation as a mechanic and manager. Here, she took a job working for a nursing magazine before landing a position at the Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce.

Her stellar work there was noticed and she was offered a job as the membership director of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce in March 1998. That October, she was named president and CEO.

During her time as president, the chamber grew from 800 members to its current 1,100 and is one of the largest suburban chambers in the state.

She was so successful at her job, her husband said, because "she was very outgoing and was such a presence. She was very engaged, very passionate about what the chamber stands for, its goals and values.

"When she was brought in, membership was struggling," Mr. Haas said. "They saw her attributes and now the chamber is on solid financial footing."

Brad Penrod, executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, agreed: "We were fortunate and blessed to have had her experience and we're a lot better off now than when she started."

He said Ms. Haas had "ever-lasting enthusiasm and support" in everything she did, whether it was for the airport, the chamber, saving the 911th, or assisting small businesses.

"She was full speed, every time you saw her, whether it was a 7 a.m. breakfast or a 6 p.m. dinner and everything in between. It is a great loss, for me on a personal level but also a loss because she was a champion not just for the airport area but for all of Western Pennsylvania."

As part of the chamber's ongoing efforts to create global outreach opportunities, she led several outreach missions to China, with close to 200 people on the tours over the last four years.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals bestowed upon Ms. Haas its highest honor, the Keystone Award.

In her personal life, Ms. Haas loved to garden and especially enjoyed growing roses, their colors brightening the family home inside and out.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Kristen Haas of Bloomfield and Jill Kipper of Scott; a brother, James Obringer of Greensburg; and a sister, Amy Meyers of Whitehall.

Friends will be received today and Sunday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at John F. Slater Funeral Home, 4201 Brownsville Road, Brentwood, where a prayer service will be held Monday at 9:15 a.m.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Church, Whitehall.

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Michael A. Fuoco: or 412-263-1968.


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