University of Pittsburgh

front page

Ralph J. Cappy(A&S ’65, LAW ’68)


Chairman, Board of Trustees, University of Pittsburgh

Retired Chief Justice of Pennsylvania

The following is an excerpt from Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s eulogy, delivered at a memorial service celebrating The Honorable Ralph J. Cappy’s life. The service was held on campus at Heinz Memorial Chapel on May 5, 2009. Justice Cappy died on May 1 in his Green Tree home.

The University of Pittsburgh was Ralph Cappy’s university. He arrived here, as a college freshman, in the fall of 1961. After earning two degrees, he was prepared to move into the real world and craft his distinguished career—a career that was centered in Pittsburgh and included his service as Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice, a pinnacle of the legal profession.

But in a very real sense, Ralph never left this campus. Pitt was in his heart; he believed in its mission; and he supported the University in a broad range of ways and over the course of many years. He would be very pleased that so many of you have come to his academic home—not only to honor his life of high achievement, but to reflect, more personally, on the parts of that special life that he shared with you.

In the ways that he regularly expressed himself, Ralph Cappy almost seemed more proud of the place from which he had come than he was of the lofty destinations to which he traveled. He was the “kid from Brookline” who became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania—not only the highest court in this Commonwealth, but the oldest appellate court in our nation.

It was interesting to hear Ralph talk about one of the early legs of that journey—his trip from Brookline to Pitt, a distance that was short in miles but not in certain other ways.  Ralph arrived ready to “take on the world,” with his priorities apparently aligned to place social success first, with academics to follow.

His freshman first impressions were not encouraging. Ralph judged his new college classmates to be more stylish and sophisticated than he was.  Undaunted, he pursued that social agenda with levels of effectiveness that later would characterize his approach to important professional undertakings.  One of his undergraduate friends later reported to me, admiringly, that Ralph fit more of a social life into any single Pitt weekend than he had been able to muster in all four of his own undergraduate years combined.

That, of course, is the way that Ralph was. He had a personal appeal that drew people to him. And he had an enviable combination of qualities that held those people close, as friends and as allies, and that contributed to his many successes. Those qualities included an active and agile mind, a principled commitment to worthy causes, the courage of his convictions, good judgment, common sense—and, most important of all, a caring heart.

Ralph was one of the kindest, most considerate and genuinely empathetic individuals I have known. He built his career by doing good work extraordinarily well in each and every job he held—public defender, trial court judge, Supreme Court justice, and, most recently, private practitioner. And the list of honors that he was accorded—not because of the positions he held but because of what he did from those positions—reflects the breadth and impact of his accomplishments.

Among the honors presented by his professional peers, Ralph was recognized by the National Center for State Courts for work of national significance in the field of judicial administration; he was one of only nine persons ever to receive the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Bar Medal; he received the highest honors bestowed by the Philadelphia and Allegheny County Bar Associations; and he received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the Women’s Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania for his efforts to promote equality in the legal profession.

The range of other groups honoring him included the Pennsylvania State Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and, of course, the Sons of Italy. Here at Pitt, he was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the School of Law, as a University Distinguished Alumni Fellow, and as a Pitt Legacy Laureate. And the “people of Pitt” always will be indebted to him for his leadership in our drive through this period of historic progress.

As each of us attempts to deal with the deep sense of loss triggered by Ralph’s sudden and untimely death, we may find some comfort in the tragically prophetic words attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.” No one fit more life into his years than Ralph Cappy.