Floyd R. Ganassi, a Fox Chapel businessman and philanthropist who epitomized a rags-to-riches story and supported his son Chip's rise to stardom on the auto racing circuit, died Monday after a brief illness.
Mr. Ganassi spent about a week in UPMC Shadyside with an undisclosed ailment before his death Monday, according to his daughter, Annette Ganassi. He was 87.
Despite Mr. Ganassi's age, the turn of events was unexpected for a man who spent more than two hours a day on the treadmill walking 10 miles and daily showed up at the RIDC park offices of his holding company, FRG Group, for a full schedule, Ms. Ganassi said.
While Mr. Ganassi certainly was known in the racing world, thanks in part to the exploits of his famous son and his presence at various racetracks -- a story last year on www.autoweek.com mentioned how he "still roams race paddocks and entertains people in [the] hospitality area" -- he achieved renown in his own right as a shrewd investor with good people skills, a humble demeanor and business savvy.
"He had a tremendous read on people. He just had natural smarts with business. And he was a real people person," said Richard Hamilton, chairman of AAA East Central. "The guy had an uncanny business sense unlike any I've witnessed."
Mr. Ganassi served since 1980 as a AAA board member, including a term as chairman from 1990 to 1993.
Mr. Hamilton credited his longtime friend with being a key voice advocating the group's expansion and helping to fuel a move that broadened the local affiliate's reach and helped expand its membership more than 10-fold.
But before serving with the AAA, before starting Westmoreland Paving in 1950 and then buying Davison Sand and Gravel in 1966, before serving on numerous boards that included Duquesne University, the Civic Light Opera and UPMC Passavant, Mr. Ganassi was born to relative poverty.
He grew up the fourth of six children in Blythedale, a section of Elizabeth Township hard by the Youghiogheny River.
"Literally there was no bathroom in their house until my father in the '50s was able to put [one in]," Ms. Ganassi said. "He is truly the epitome of the American dream."
Mr. Ganassi went to McKeesport High School but did not attend college. He fought in Germany in World War II, his daughter said. He rode a merry-go-round of employment -- paper boy, baggage handler, appliance salesman -- before starting his own business.
His launch of Westmoreland Paving proved pivotal in his career. "He was self-taught and he had a tremendous mind. I would sit and listen to him talk, the plans he had, the businesses he had," said Pittsburgh defense attorney Jim Ecker, who served with Mr. Ganassi on several boards.
His wife, Marie Moia Ganassi, whom he married in 1957, died in 2011.
People described Mr. Ganassi as a modest person who would be just as at ease talking to a valet or a mechanic as he was while talking to Mexican billionaire and racing aficionado Carlos Slim.
Mr. Hamilton recalled a phone call while visiting Mr. Ganassi's office one day.
"The secretary said, 'It's Carlos on the phone,' " Mr. Hamilton recalled. "I asked Floyd if he knew someone in Mexico."
In addition to his children, Mr. Ganassi is survived by a brother, Victor, and a granddaughter.
There is a viewing from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at John A. Freyvogel Sons, 4900 Centre Ave., Oakland. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1962.