Shady Side Academy President Bart Griffith sent the following message to the SSA community on Thursday, March 2:
Dear Shady Side Community,
It is with deep sadness that I share the news that Robert J. Grandizio Sr., one of the most revered, beloved figures in Shady Side’s history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 79, surrounded by loved ones and family.
A teacher, coach, athletic director, and director of alumni relations at Shady Side for more than three decades, Bob and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of four Shady Side alumni, Leigh ‘84, Shari ‘87, Bob Jr. ‘91 (current SSA Director of Admissions for Grades 6-12), and Lara ‘96, and the grandparents of current SSA student Marley ‘24.
Fresh off his graduation from Springfield College, Bob arrived at Shady Side in the fall of 1965 to fulfill his childhood dream of coaching football — and to teach chemistry and serve as a dorm parent. Only a year later, he became the youngest head football coach in Western Pennsylvania. Immediately successful, he was quickly dubbed “King of the Gridiron,” earning a 92-58-3 career record and winning five IPSL Championships between 1966-1982. Bob’s teams were known for their smart and tough style of play, earning the respect of high school football coaches and fans throughout Pittsburgh and helping Shady Side enhance its reputation for athletic excellence.
A native of Swissvale, Pa., Bob established relationships with local youth sports organizations across the region, which helped him attract students and football players from all over Western Pennsylvania to SSA. In a recent article in Shady Side Magazine about SSA’s long partnership with the Morningside Bulldogs football program, Bob expressed pride in the racial and socioeconomic diversity such outreach brought to Shady Side.
In 1982, Bob was appointed by President Emerson Johnson as SSA’s fourth director of athletics, a role he called “the greatest job in the world.” He served in that capacity until 1990, when he left to become assistant head of school and admissions director at The Kiski School. Inevitably drawn back to SSA, he was appointed director of alumni relations by President Tom Southard in 2002 and energized the Alumni & Development Office, helping Shady Side complete a $35M capital campaign, the largest in our history. In 2008, upon his retirement and in honor of his legacy, Shady Side dedicated the Robert J. Grandizio Athletic Complex, a state-of-the art facility that since has served as a hub for SSA athletics and the entire community.
Blessed with playful charisma, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and immense gifts as a communicator and storyteller, Bob formed deep connections with Shady Side students, parents, faculty, and staff. He coupled a culture of high expectations with a sense of joy and an authentic care for others. Still a fixture at school events throughout his retirement, his relationships with the SSA community only grew stronger over time. I am not sure anyone has ever made as many lasting friendships at Shady Side as Bob.
As a nervous freshman reporting for the opening day of preseason football in 1989, I distinctly remember meeting “Coach Grandizio” for the first time. As Bob handed out my pads that morning, he let me know that, because he had coached my father, I would be his first “legacy football player,” something he rightly sensed would reassure a rather weak-kneed kid like me. Our special connection was always a shared point of pride, one small story amidst so many others that speak to the intergenerational cohesion Bob inspired in our community.
I also often recall Bob’s memorable opening line from his 1991 Commencement address. He joked that President Peter Kountz only asked him to speak because he figured Bob was “the only potential speaker who has no idea what the word ‘honorarium’ means.” It brought the house down, and, like much of his humor, made someone seemingly larger than life also uniquely relatable and human.
Gene Deal, who succeeded Bob as athletic director, knew him as a tremendous friend and mentor. “I feel extremely lucky to have him be a part of my life. His passion for all things SSA will never be forgotten – he loved the rigor of our academics, the creativity in the arts and the competitiveness of the athletic teams. His players, students, colleagues, administrators, parents and alumni truly loved him. I will miss him dearly.”
Years ago, in a series of interviews with the Shady Side News, Bob reflected on his good fortune in fulfilling his childhood dream at SSA: “Since the seventh grade I’ve wanted to be a football coach. I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to work with young people. I thank God and the people at Shady Side Academy that you made my dream come true.”
Coach Grandizio, we are thankful for your example and the countless ways you have shaped Shady Side Academy. As the alma mater teaches us, joy, hope and trust in thee ever will abide.
May you rest in eternal peace.
Bart Griffith ‘93
Robert J. Grandizio, Sr., of O’Hara Township, formerly Swissvale, passed away peacefully on March 2, 2023, with his family by his side. Beloved husband of Cynthia (Pardon), with whom he spent 58 incredible years. Devoted father to Leigh (Ken), Shari, Bobby (Pam) and Lara. Loving and playful Pop-Pop to Sonny, Taryn, Taylor, Cullen, Tommy, Emma, Callie, Briana, Marley, Dillon, Blaise, Tobin, Sofia and Deacon.
Bob was born June 6, 1943, to Hilda and Frank in Swissvale, PA, and graduated from Swissvale High School in the Class of 1961. He was the first of his family to attend college and graduated from Springfield College in 1965, where he starred on the football and baseball fields.
Shortly after graduating college, Bob and Cindy were married and Bob realized his lifelong dream of educating and coaching young people when he accepted a job at Shady Side Academy. He served as a science and physical education teacher and coached football, wrestling and baseball. Bob remained a teacher, coach, athletic director, administrator and mentor at Shady Side Academy for 32 years and also spent 11 years as the Assistant Head and Director of Admissions at the Kiski School in Saltsburg, PA.
Bob made an impact on so many with his charm, wit, intelligence and natural leadership skills. He had a gift for making others feel welcome and appreciated while also challenging them to be their best and contribute to the greater good. He was committed to impacting others’ lives in a positive way and was a constant source of advice, support, discipline and a few good laughs for decades. Bob had a lifelong love for the city of Pittsburgh, its sports teams, music, movies and was a voracious reader. Whenever he had the chance, Bob loved playing golf with colleagues, traveling with his wife and close friends, and attending sporting events with his family. All of these interests took a backseat to simple family functions like Sunday dinners and birthdays, where his unconditional love for family and friends was on full display. Bob made a lasting impression on so many people that his legacy will live on for many years to come.
A memorial service will be held to celebrate Bob’s remarkable life on April 1, 2023, at 1 p.m. at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy, 423 Fox Chapel Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances can be made to Shady Side Academy, 423 Fox Chapel Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238 or supportssa.org.