Obituary: John P. Brill | Longtime educator taught 'life lesson'
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John P. Brill understood the importance of teaching his students life lessons in addition to the information supplied by textbooks, especially when it came to proper manners.
So much so, that family members wrapped up a box of unclaimed hats he collected during his teaching career from boys who broke his rule of keeping the caps in lockers or backpacks during class time.
The box was so big that his wife, Geraldine Brill, thought the gift was going to be a television.
"That's what he believed: Gentleman act like gentleman," she said.
The longtime mentor of many young people, serving a range of educational positions from science teacher to principal at Taylor Allderdice High School, died Friday at UPMC Passavant Hospital due to complications from heart and kidney problems. Mr. Brill of McCandless was 79.
The "home-grown boy," as described by Ms. Brill, was born in North Hills on Aug. 27, 1932.
He attended Annunciation Catholic grade school and received his high school diploma at North Catholic.
Mr. Brill spent his college years at Duquesne University before receiving a master's degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh.
Funding from the G.I. Bill, which Mr. Brill became eligible for after service in the Korean War, made college a possibility for him.
His love for education translated into a career, as Mr. Brill became a math and science teacher at Langley High School and Perry High School.
The final stage of his journey in education came at Taylor Allderdice High School, where he served as assistant principal from August 1981 to June 1991, and co-principal from July 1991 to July 1993.
Ms. Brill explained that as a teacher he was tough, but valued humility and never boasted about his numerous life accomplishments.
"I'm hearing that a lot this afternoon. He never bragged," she said at her husband's viewing. "He just went and did a job."
Ms. Brill met her husband at a basement house party thrown by a mutual friend. The meeting sparked a marriage that lasted 53 years.
His strong work ethic always seemed to rub off on others, as exemplified by a former student who traveled from Uniontown to attend his memorial service on Sunday.
"He said, 'Mr. Brill straightened me out. I was extremely poor. He got me a scholarship,' " Ms. Brill said. "And he said, 'Now I'm a teacher.' "
Mr. Brill continued to assist and support others after his retirement from Taylor Allderdice, most notably through his work at AARP.
As President of Mellwood AARP 2854, he was very active in advocating for the rights and benefits of Pennsylvania's older citizens.
Mr. Brill was recognized for his efforts in 2003 when he received the AARP Andrus Award for Pennsylvania, an annual honor given to only one person in the state.
Barbara Bush of Bellevue, a volunteer and member of the AARP State Executive Council, worked along side Mr. Brill for more than 10 years.
"John was a great fellow; he loved legislation and dedicated his life to helping others," Ms. Bush said.
She recalled how important Mr. Brill was to AARP, even if it meant performing an unexpected task.
"He dressed up as Santa Claus and gave out presents to patients at the Kane Centers," she said.
"He was just a really great person."
Mr. Brill is survived by his wife, Geraldine; his daughter, Ann Elizabeth White of Laurel, Md.; and his brother, Jacob Brill of Freeport.
A Mass of Christian Burial in St. Teresa of Avila Church will be celebrated 10 a.m. today. Contributions may be made to St. Teresa of Avila Church, 1000 Avila Ct., Pittsburgh, PA 15237.
First Published July 3, 2012 12:00 am