Phillipe R. Petite married at 19 and helped raise two children while doing janitorial work and attending college.
Later, Mr. Petite immersed himself in the Hill District's problems as a legislative assistant to state House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis and tracked minority firms' participation in city business as head of the Equal Opportunity Review Commission.
And he was long the family's "go-to guy," recalled his brother, District Judge Oscar J. Petite Jr.
"We had fights growing up in public housing communities," Judge Petite said. "That's a scary time in your life. If my brother was around, I knew I was going to be all right."
Mr. Petite, 62, died Monday of congestive heart failure at his Lincoln-Lemington home. He had struggled with the illness for some time, said Judge Petite, who had been trying to get his brother to retire.
"I had the honor of working with Phil for nearly 20 years," Councilman Bill Peduto said in a statement. "His mission was justice. His manner was kindness. His motivation was people. I will miss my friend, Pittsburgh will miss a leader."
Also in a statement, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said, "I am deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Phil Petite, and my prayers and condolences go out to his family and friends. Phil was a dedicated city employee for the last 24 years, and his devoted advocacy for women- and minority-owned businesses will not be forgotten. He will be missed."
Mr. Petite was born Jan. 7. 1951, in the Hill District, a son of Oscar J. Sr. and Bertha Mae Petite, who worked in the county court system and were active in local politics.
A baseball and basketball player, Mr. Petite graduated from Schenley High School in 1968. He went on to Robert Morris University and received a bachelor's degree in business, while supporting his family with cleaning work at the courthouse, Judge Petite said.
Years later, Mr. Petite received an online master's degree. Judge Petite said he asked his brother whether he was angling for a better job and was startled when he replied, "No, people just listen to you better."
Mr. Petite had a variety of government-related jobs, including collecting the quarters from airport parking meters. Beginning in the late 1970s or early 1980s, his brother said, Mr. Petite spent about a decade serving as Mr. Irvis' point man in a "raggedy building" in the heart of the Hill District.
"And folks would roll in from off the street with problems and issues. He dealt with the constituents and handled the speaker's business when the speaker was away," Judge Petite said.
In January 1989, Mr. Petite joined the city as a senior budget analyst and later worked as assistant director of general services and senior executive assistant in the mayor's office, among other roles.
In 1999, he was named manager of what's now the Equal Opportunity Review Commission, working to ensure that minority- and women-owned firms get a share of the contracts let by the city and city-related authorities. City Controller Michael Lamb criticized the agency's tracking efforts in an audit last year.
Mr. Petite was a member of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, learned to operate cameras and wrote a screenplay -- "The Prank" -- about a man who fakes his death to see how many people really loved him.
Though he wasn't a stellar athlete, the judge said, he played with more confidence when his brother was around. Judge Petite said his brother stepped in to protect him from neighborhood bullies -- "except one time he waited too long."
Also surviving are his ex-wife, Adrianne Petite of Penn Hills; daughter Layla Williams of Penn Hills and son Phillipe Jr. of the Hill District; brothers Stanley of San Pedro, Calif., and Adrian of Eden, N.C.; and four grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 2 to 8 p.m. today in West Funeral Home, 2215 Wylie Ave., Hill District. Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, 7060 Lemington Ave., Lincoln-Lemington.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.