Joseph Puzio, for 33 years a devoted teacher and principal in the Pittsburgh Public Schools whose concern for students went beyond the classroom, died in his Greenfield home on Thursday. He was 69. The cause of death was chronic respiratory disease.
Mr. Puzio not only taught his pupils; he and his wife, Martha, also took them to spelling bees at Buhl Planetarium and out for lunch afterward. He passed out silver coins to reward students for working hard. If he could see that a child needed clothing, he'd arrange for it. With up to 20 school buses coming and going from Burgwin Elementary, he designed a system for getting children safely on the correct bus.
At Christmas time, he collected donations from various banks for student gift bags. And if a child was a Jehovah's Witness and could not accept a Christmas gift, he'd put it in a plain bag and say it was just something he wanted the boy or girl to have.
"He never wanted anyone to be left out," his wife said. "The kids loved him. They would grab him by the legs like a big teddy bear."
His teaching skill, kindness and leadership were well known in the community, she said. He helped educate several generations of the same families, and it wasn't unusual for former students to stop him to say thanks for the positive influence he had on their lives.
Mr. Puzio was born in Hazelwood, the middle of three children whose father was an engineer for Westinghouse Bettis and whose mother was a homemaker.
He graduated from Gladstone High School and earned his bachelor's degree in education at Slippery Rock University, where he was an officer of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a member of Pi Gamma Mu, the international honor society for the social sciences.
Mr. Puzio did his student teaching at Mt. Lebanon High School. He joined the Teacher Corps, which placed him at Burgwin Elementary, where they liked him so much they offered him a full-time job.
At that point he married his college sweetheart. They had a daughter, Melissa, who died two months ago. The couple marked their 45th wedding anniversary shortly before his death.
Mr. Puzio went on to earn his master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as his principal certification. Mrs. Puzio said he was only a few credits shy of a Ph.D.
He taught all subjects at Burgwin for many years, then became assistant principal at Crescent Elementary in Homewood, principal of Beltzhoover Elementary and principal of Dilworth Traditional Academy in Highland Park until his retirement in 1999. Early in his career he also taught math at night school for adults earning their high school equivalency degrees, and summer school for young people who needed extra help.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Puzio is survived by a sister, Mary Lou Dorsogna of Munhall, and a brother, Tom of South Park.
Friends will be received at 10 a.m. today, followed by a blessing service at noon, at the John D. O'Connor & Son Funeral Home, 5106 Second Ave., Hazelwood. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery.
Sally Kalson: email@example.com or 412-263-1610. First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM