Raymond Arke | News Editor
Once a Duke, always a Duke. That’s how James “Jim” O’Day felt throughout his impactful life. O’Day, a Duquesne 1952 alum and long-time board of directors member, passed away two weeks ago.
Duquesne President Ken Gormley said, “We were deeply saddened” to hear about O’Day’s passing. O’Day contributed extensively to Duquesne, Gormley explained. He had been a Board Emeritus member, along with being a past president of the Alumni Association, an inductee of the Century Club, a member of the Athletics Hall of Fame and a recipient of the McAnulty Service Award.
Gormley said that he appreciated O’Day’s support over the years.
“Jim was a great source of support and wise guidance for me when I stepped into the deanship at the Law School and remained a great friend in the years that followed,” he said. “Laura and I will continue to keep Jim and the entire O’Day family in our prayers. He will be deeply missed by all of us privileged to have known him.”
A former vice president of Pittsburgh National Bank, which would later become PNC, he played football on a scholarship for Duquesne in the late 1940s and early 1950s, something his son recalled.
“Duquesne was Division I, and they played some awesome teams,” Jim O’Day Jr. remembered. He said his dad and Duquesne faced football powerhouses like Clemson, Georgia and Alabama nearly every year.
“I’m not saying they won, but they did play,” joked Peter Kalis, O’Day’s son-in-law.
O’Day Jr. explained that due to the war, Duquesne had to briefly end their football program, which put his father’s scholarship in jeopardy.
“He wouldn’t be able to go to college” without the scholarship, O’Day Jr. said.
However, Duquesne decided to honor all the athlete’s scholarships even though there were no teams.
“That cemented my dad’s love to Duquesne. That loyalty of them living up to their deal,” O’Day Jr. said.
Kalis agreed saying that O’Day was “struck” by the generosity of the university to continue covering the working-class Irish boy’s tuition.
After graduation from Duquesne, he entered the Army as an officer and served in the Korean War. O’Day Jr. said that his dad had risen to the rank of cadet colonel in the ROTC at Duquesne and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
In Korea, he served in the Third Armored Cavalry, an artillery unit.
“When he arrived the truce was already signed, O’Day Jr. said. “Thankfully he did not see any hostile action.”
His time in the military was something he was “really proud,” of and he “loved the Army,” his son explained.
Once the war ended, O’Day earned his law degree from Case Western University where he graduated with honors, according to Kalis.
O’Day had several jobs in Cleveland and is where he married Mary Elizabeth Gibson, a marriage that lasted until her death in 2010. They had seven children together.
When O’Day was in Ohio, he met Merle Gilliand, the CEO of Pittsburgh National Bank. O’Day Jr. said Gilliand was crucial in recruiting O’Day to move his large family to Pittsburgh in 1970 to become the vice president of governmental affairs.
Since the job required frequent contact with legislators, O’Day Jr. said it kept his dad on the move.
“My dad traveled a lot to Harrisburg and D.C,” he said. “Mom stayed at home with seven kids.”
However, his father would stay in touch over the phone and his mother would employ the “dreaded ‘Wait until your father gets home,’” warning for misbehavior.
“I always viewed them as an inseparable pair,” Kalis said.
Kalis said that O’Day had an impactful role at Pittsburgh National Bank.
“He was active in establishing branch banking in Pennsylvania, something we take for granted now,” Kalis said. “[O’Day] was a very well-respected lobbyist on both sides of the aisle.”
O’Day was also remembered as a “terrific grandfather” by Kalis.
“He took enormous pride in how his grandchildren were active,” Kalis said, “Grandpa was always there.”
In the end, O’Day Jr. said that Duquesne was always close to his father’s heart.
“My dad loved Duquesne as much as he loved family, God and country,” he said. “It’s a special place.”
O’Day Jr. also mentioned that he was wearing his father’s Duquesne graduation ring during the interview, something he felt “really proud of.”
O’Day Jr. thanked Duquesne’s Rev. Sean Hogan for “[being] a great friend to my family.”