Obituary: Rita M. McGinley / Teacher, philanthropist owned piece of Steelers
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As a woman who owned a partial stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rita M. McGinley didn't need to work at all. Since she wanted to work, her distinguished education gave her the opportunity to do nearly anything.
What she chose to do was to become a teacher and guidance counselor, and to spend her entire career in the Braddock community she loved and at the high school -- Braddock High School, which later became Woodland Hills High School -- from which she graduated in 1936.
Teaching was his aunt's true calling and she would have chosen it as her profession regardless of any alternatives, said John R. "Jack" McGinley Jr.
"She loved the interaction with young people, she liked contributing to their growth, she liked instilling knowledge in them and equipping them for a place in society," Mr. McGinley said. "I think she found great satisfaction in that. She had a great heart."
Miss McGinley died Friday. She was 95.
Born Aug. 24, 1918, in Braddock, Miss McGinley was the daughter of the late Bernard L., a boxing promoter and businessman, and Katherine I. McGinley, a teacher at a Braddock business school.
Miss McGinley, as a girl and young woman, often watched her father help others, as when he rallied members of their home parish, St. Brendan, to raise money so a neighboring parish could afford to buy coal for its furnace. That lesson of helping others was reinforced by her undergraduate studies at Carlow University, then Mount Mercy College, where she majored in biology but also earned enough credits in English to teach.
At Carlow, following the school's ethos of serving others came naturally to Miss McGinley, "a true treasure" whom many people called Aunt Rita for her caring ways, said Carlow president Mary Hines.
"She was very much a mother, she was very nurturing," said Ms. Hines, who said Miss McGinley will posthumously receive the univerity's Carlow Laureate for distinguished alumni in May. "We're very proud of her -- she lived the values Carlow teaches through her whole life."
Miss McGinley also received an honorary doctorate from Carlow, from which she earned a bachelor of science degree in 1940.
After graduating from Carlow, Miss McGinley continued her graduate work at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master's degree in education.
She got a job as a science teacher at Braddock High School, and stayed on as a teacher and guidance counselor for 45 years.
Through the decades, her alma mater became General Braddock and then Woodland Hills High School, and the community changed dramatically from the days when nine department stores and numerous restaurants and groceries lined the bustling streets.
But as the mills withered, many businesses closed and longtime Braddock residents began moving out, Miss McGinley believed the children she taught needed her more than ever. The ethnic melting pot that had brought together Irish and Italians and Poles and Slovaks now began including an increasing number of African-Americans, causing tension in some of the old neighborhoods. But Miss McGinley didn't seem to care.
"I really think my aunt was colorblind, and there was no difference between her teaching the kids of Braddock in the '70s than there was in the '40s," Mr. McGinley said. "She talked about it the same whether the schools were black or white."
During those years, Miss McGinley cheered on the family's involvement in the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which her father had invested in 1944, but was not personally involved in the business. She ultimately co-owned a significant share of the team with her brother, Jack.
"She was their supporter, and the Steelers players could do no wrong," Mr. McGinley said. "She loved the Steelers, she liked her association with them and she was proud of her father and his achievements."
In her later years, Miss McGinley made sure her father's financial success became a legacy of usefulness, giving away approximately $500,000 annually to a diverse group of schools and organizations mostly benefiting education, the poor and the elderly.
She was one of the original supporters of Operation Safety Net, which provides help and health care to homeless people on the streets, beginning in the 1980s.
Her philanthropy also benefited Mercy Hospital, the Extra Mile Education Foundation, Duquesne University, Saint Vincent College, St. Bonaventure Parish School, Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic high schools, Little Sisters of the Poor, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory, the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind, the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, Jubilee Kitchen and the Diocese of Pittsburgh's capital campaign.
And last year, she gave $5 million to Carlow -- the largest gift in its history -- to create and endow the Rita M. McGinley Center for Student Success.
"There are a lot of young people who are going to go to school for a long time because of her generosity at levels, from grade school through post-graduate school," Mr. McGinley said.
John A. Freyvogel Sons funeral home in Shadyside is handling arrangements.
First Published February 16, 2013 12:00 am