Jeff is an award-winning independent filmmaker and writer who specializes in defining the cultural significance of American people, places, things and events.

Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority

I grew up in Southern New Hampshire in essentially a suburb of Boston. My mother was a homemaker, as many women were back then, and my father was a commercial airline pilot for Pan American World Airways, having been a U.S. Marine fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. I’m the oldest of four kids: two …

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Elsie Hillman, Political and Civic Leader

My husband, Henry Lea Hillman, is seven years older than me. He is the son, of course, of Pittsburgh steel mogul John H. Hillman, Jr., an industrialist who built Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical. Anyway, Henry was a friend of my older sister, and I knew his younger sister, so we all became friends. When I …

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Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive

I was born and raised in the Bloomfield-Garfield section of Pittsburgh, which is now called “Friendship.” I attended St. Lawrence O’Toole Grade School in Garfield, Central Catholic High and then Carnegie Mellon University in nearby Oakland, and have lived and raised my family in Squirrel Hill for the past 33 years. So, geographically speaking, I’ve …

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Jim Withers, M.D., Street Doctor

My father was a country doctor; my mom, a nurse. Their relationship was grounded in the values of service and compassion, and they included their children—me, for sure—in that vision. So I made house calls with my dad and, among other things, got to practice parallel parking while delivering Meals on Wheels with my mother, …

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Vivien Li, River Keeper

My parents came from educated families in China and Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States. My mother arrived in the early ’50s as an undergraduate while my father, who was 10 years her senior, was studying for a Ph.D. Back then, it was difficult for Asians to come here. The immigration laws were …

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Clint Hurdle, Baseball Impresario

I believe that all people inherently have at least one passion. And if that passion can be turned into a livelihood, life becomes special. I’ve had a passion for the game of baseball since I was 5 years old. And now, at the age of 58, instead of running to my backyard to play the …

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Words of Wisdom

“Reviewing the following excerpts from some of the 40 first–person profiles I created for the magazine over the past 10 years was an emotional experience for me. How many people get to choose from among the most prominent individuals in their hometown and spend time with them learning their life stories? Some have passed on …

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Esther L. Barazzone, Educator & Administrator

I grew up in Bluefield, W.Va., a town of about 16,000, which had no “wrong side” of the tracks—because it was all tracks, for trains moving coal out of southern West Virginia. I lived there with my mother, stepfather and three brothers. Three out of four of my grandparents were immigrants—from Italy, Belgium and Ireland—and, …

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J. Kevin McMahon, Arts & Culture Executive

It’s not a secret, but I actually was born in Pittsburgh. I don’t talk about it, not because I’m not proud of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh is great. But in Pittsburgh, if you say you were born here, everybody expects you to know everything about it. When I was a little kid, my family moved, so I …

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Maxwell King, Philanthropy Executive

I am Maxwell Evarts Perkins King, named after Maxwell Evarts Perkins, my grandfather, who was the editor at Scribner’s for Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among other authors. Even though my mother always told me, “Go to law school, Max” (many of her family members were lawyers), all she ever talked about …

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Patrick D. Gallagher, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor

I don’t recollect ever wanting to manage a large organization. But I’ve always enjoyed managing things. In fact, my management experience started when I was very young. As a junior in high school, I joined a volunteer organization called Amigos de las Americas [Friends of the Americas], which was a non-denominational, youth-based organization modeled after …

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Allan H. Meltzer, Economist, professor, author

As a kid, I moved a lot around Boston, where I was born. My mother died when I was 5, after which I lived with my grandmother. When I was 9, my father remarried and we became suburbanites, moving to Westwood, Mass. Practically no Jews lived there other than me, my dad and my sisters. …

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Ted Pappas, Impresario

How did I find myself in Pittsburgh? That’s a complicated question. I was born in Tampa to Greek immigrant parents, so my first few years were spent in Florida surrounded by a very Greek community. (There are more Greeks there than you might think.) Then we moved to Gary, Ind., where my father worked as …

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William E. Strickland Jr., Educator and Activist

I’m a North Side kid. I grew up in the Manchester section of Pittsburgh and graduated from Oliver High School, where I was lucky enough to meet a person named Frank Ross, who was my art teacher. In several important ways, Frank turned my life around dramatically. I was raised in a small row house …

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Richard V. Piacentini, Botanist and Innovator

I was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, practically across the street from a several-thousand-acre state park in which we played all the time. I loved being in the woods as a kid. I was always interested in plants and animals—mostly plants, to be honest—during my early years. I used …

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Elsie H. Hillman, Political and Civic Leader

Instrumental in the political campaigns of: Dwight Eisenhower, William Scranton, John Heinz, Gerald Ford, Richard Thornburgh, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Hafer, Tom Ridge and Arlen Specter Board member of many organizations through the decades, including: WQED Multimedia, the Hill House Association, the Urban League, Carlow University and the Hillman Family Foundations. Where does my story …

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Mark A. Nordenberg, Professor of Law & University Administrator

Minnesota is the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’ and northern Minnesota, where I was born and raised, has more than its share. Because Duluth, my hometown, was built on a hill, we had a scenic view of Lake Superior from our home. To me, it was like an ocean. Duluth was a great place to be …

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Sala Udin, Community Organizer

My mother and father came to Pittsburgh during the great black migration from the South in the 1920s. They met and married here and took up residence in the lower Hill District. I was raised on Fullerton Street, which was the main drag leading to Wiley Avenue, the cultural heart of the lower Hill. From …

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Jared L. Cohon, Academician

My grandfather’s name was Kogonovich. He arrived at Ellis Island from Poland in 1918 and didn’t speak a word of English. The immigration agent he encountered somehow believed he had called himself “Cohen,” and apparently didn’t know how to spell that, so he wrote “C-O-H-O-N,” a highly unusual spelling of a very Jewish name. Let’s …

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David McCullough, Author, Narrator, Historian & Lecturer

When he was about 15 or so and was reading about writers and their lives, one of my sons turned to me one evening and said, “Dad, I don’t think you’re ever going to be a really great writer.” “Why is that?” I asked him. He said, “You had way too happy a childhood.” And …

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Ed Rendell, Public Servant

I was born into a slightly upper-middle-class Jewish family in New York in 1944, and lived in Manhattan with my mother, father and older brother. My father was a converter in the textile industry. My mother was a designer whose family had a pretty successful sportswear business. At an early age, my dad ingrained in …

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Edgar Snyder, Attorney

It all started back in 1977 with the U.S. Supreme Court case, Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. In that case, the Court held that lawyer advertising is commercial speech and as such is protected by the First Amendment. That decision totally upset the longstanding belief among lawyers that advertising their services somehow demeaned the …

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