By Jim O’Brien From Pittsburgh Business Times
Vince Scorsone came out of McKeesport to be a big success in sports and business
The Vince Scorsone story is a classic tale of how someone transformed early success in football into greater success in the business world.
Scorsone first gained notice as an outstanding lineman at McKeesport High School and then the University of Pittsburgh in the early ‘50s. He went to work at Alcoa in 1960 after a two-year stint in the military service as a first lieutenant in Korea and a year of pro football with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, and began a 34-year career at Alcoa. He held many management positions as he climbed the corporate ladder at the Fortune 500 aluminum company.
He was the executive vice president when he retired in 1994, and served as chairman’s counsel from 1991 to 1994. He and his wife Jan lived on Grandview Avenue on Mt. Washington, but moved to the San Diego area in 2006.
At Alcoa, Scorsone served as the right hand man to the president and CEO, C. Fred Fetterolf, small in stature next to the powerfully-built Scorsone, but someone who had lettered in three sports – football, basketball and as the No. 1 golfer on the links team – at Grove City College (’52) and could appreciate a true student-athlete in his administration.
Scorsone credited his high school football coach, the legendary “Duke” Weigle, for setting him on the right course. “I ran into Coach Weigle the summer (1953) before I started at Pitt, and he asked me what I was going to major in at Pitt. I told him physical education. ‘I want to be a coach like you,’ I said. And he wagged his head and said, ‘No, you don’t. You major in business and you’ll do much better in life.’ In those days, you listened to your high school coach and I went out to Pitt the next day and changed my major.
“My story is more a story about Duke Weigle than Vince Scorsone,” continued Scorsone. His son, Grant Scorsone, says his dad, whom he regards as his personal hero, is a humble man.
There is an annual dinner held in McKeesport to pay tribute to the late Coach Weigle, and Scorsone attended many of these dinners. “Duke was a larger than life figure to his players,” said Scorsone in a letter he sent me on April 30, 2013, “and, as you know, he tried to steer his players in the right direction to have the best possible future for them. I am sure most of his players were as awestruck as I was about him.”
Scorsone first shared that story with me over 30 years ago, when he had an office in Alcoa’s headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, and it has stayed with me. We reconnected a month ago over the telephone at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, a gated community just north of San Diego.
“That exchange with Coach Weigle probably took all of 20 seconds,” said Scorsone, “but it changed my life. I have always been grateful to him.”
When I mentioned Vince Scorsone’s name to George Smith, who is coming back to coach the football team at McKeesport High School, he nodded that he knew him well. “I met him a few times at those dinners that are held in Coach Weigle’s honor,” said Smith. “Duke Weigle was my coach, too, and I thought the world of him. He set the bar high for all of us high school coaches.”
I have always been impressed with Smith when I heard him speak about his kids and his program at McKeesport High. After a three-year hiatus, he is back to coach the team this coming fall. McKeesport is lucky to have him.
I heard Smith say something else that has stayed with me when he was honored recently at two different functions on a Saturday at the start of this month. “I don’t have a lot of confidence,” he said, “and I rely on my wife (Michelle) and my coaching staff to support me, and keep me on course.
Smith is the kind of high school football coach who makes a difference in young lives, on and off the field.
Scorsone listened to his superiors along the way at Alcoa, as well, and never said “no” when asked to take on a new assignment, no matter where it sent him and his family.
“I did the job, wherever I went,” he said. “I had respect for management people and they were great molders of my ability. I was willing to transfer and that resulted in us moving 13 times in my first 22 years with the company. I never told the company ‘no’ when they asked me to go somewhere else. I knew it would pay off.
“I knew what was going on in the plants. I was well served by my business background. My wife said to me one day, ‘Please don’t come home and ask me to move to Brazil.’ But I did exactly that a year or so later. I took on a billion dollar project in the Amazon. We lived in Sao Paolo, and had it nice, and she was happy there as well.”
There was hesitation in his voice as Scorsone spoke on the telephone. I’d just spoken on the phone with an old friend from Long Island who had the same hitch in his voice. My buddy told me he had suffered a stroke four months earlier. That wasn’t the case with Scorsone. He said he had been dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, thus the quiver in his voice. It hurt to hear such proud men struggling in their speech in both cases.
“I have all the money and free time, but I can’t play golf or do much else,” said Scorsone. “I’ll be in a wheel chair before long.”
His son Grant, who lives in Bethel Park, sent me an e-mail on Monday, May 13, telling me that he had spoken to his mother and she expected her husband to die that evening. Vince Scorsone died Wednesday morning, May 15, a week before he turned 78. That’s why this is personal; this never happened before with someone I was interviewing.
“The Lord has called for another angel,” wrote Grant Scorsone in his e-mail message. “Today looks like No. 64 is starting his final game on earth. You actually gave Dad an honor by reaching out to him regarding the PBT article. He was delighted by your request.”
In between those two e-mails from Scorsone’s son, I attended the viewing of Munhall’s Hall of Fame football star Jack Butler at the Freyvogel Funeral Home in Oakland.
It was all a little too much in the way of mortality reminders in one three-day stretch.
I attended Scorone’s funeral service, a celebration of his life, at the Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home. I saw many of his former teammates from the Pitt teams that played in the Sugar Bowl and the Gator Bowl in the ‘50s, including Dick Bowen, who grew up and starred in football at Duquesne High, but has lived most of his adult life in McKeesport’s White Oak community.
I had a chance to connect once again with Scorsone’s teammates from that era. There was Ambrose “Bugs” Bagamery, who was on Bowen’s coaching staff with the Pittsburgh Valley Ironmen, Charles L. “Corky” Cost of Cost Construction in Wilkinsburg, Dr. Darrell Lewis, also from Wilkinsburg, Bob Rosborough from Donora.
There were pictures of Scorsone with his Pitt team, and there were Western Union wires that had been sent to him back in 1957 from the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers asking if was interested in playing pro football.
He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, but entered the military service upon graduation. He later played one season with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League in 1959.
The Pitt teammates told good stories about Scorsone and talked of what a tremendous leader and friend he had been, how generous he was with so many good causes. He made good money at Alcoa, and he shared it with Pitt where he endowed scholarships, and with worthy causes here as well.
His four grandsons all spoke of the special relationship they enjoyed with their “Papa,” and that was good to hear. There was an American flag in his coffin, and there was a military observance at his service where the flag was folded by two honor guards and presented to his wife Janet. That is always a moving ceremony.
Vince Scorsone was buried on his birthday, May 21. He would have been 78. He missed Memorial Day, a day when he always felt a special sense of pride for serving in the U.S. Army as an officer in Korea after the Korean Conflict. Vince Scorsone was always the good soldier and it, indeed, paid off.
Jim O’Brien has written 21 books on Pittsburgh sports achievement in his series. Check his website at www.jimobriensportsauthor.com for details.