J. Fred Graham, the man widely credited with overseeing the building of Pittsburgh International Airport, died on March 14. He was 82.
Graham was the director of capital projects for Allegheny County when the current facility was built in 1992, cementing the transition from Greater Pittsburgh International into a state-of-the-art airport specifically designed as a hub for USAir by architect Tasso Katselas.
And Graham didn’t watch that transition from behind a desk.
“I used to walk the site with him every week,” said Richard Stanizzo, member of the Allegheny County Airport Authority board and business manager of the Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trades Council. “He had his finger on every part of that building being built.”
Stanizzo, an ironworker by trade, worked on the project as a union representative and said Graham, an engineer trained at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), was “unbelievable” and got along well with laborers at the site.
“He was there every day,” Stanizzo said. “He knew his stuff.”
Graham’s easygoing nature was his trademark, say those who knew him, but his expertise led the way to the construction of the airport, the Southern Expressway and numerous bridge projects in the county, among other accomplishments.
“He often joked that he hired people smarter than him, although we know that Fred was one of the smartest people we knew,” said county executive Rich Fitzgerald in a statement. “He gave his employees responsibility and expected them to make decisions and grow in their field. He gave back to his profession and focused on helping young people.”
After retiring from the county, Graham worked in various consulting roles and even returned to CMU as an adjunct professor. His loss comes as the county and airport authority plan the next evolution of the airport with the Terminal Modernization Program, which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
“A large majority of civil engineers in Pittsburgh who are over the age of 50 likely owe some part of their career to Fred, according to his former colleagues, due to their experiences of working directly or indirectly with him. His impact will be felt for generations, and we are grateful for his legacy at Allegheny County,” Fitzgerald said.