Russell C. Brignano, PhD, dearly beloved husband of Mary Germann Brignano, died on April 8 at Family Hospice at Canterbury Place at the age of 87. An Emeritus Professor of English in the Penn State University system, he was a kind, thoughtful, warm and caring man who loved his family and friends. He was also smart and witty, adept at wordplay and a master of puns. He was devoted to reading, baseball, classical music, the ocean, and growing vegetables — though not eating very many of them! He was strong-willed, courageous and believed in social justice. He never missed voting in any election and served for many years as a Judge of Elections in his then voting district in Squirrel Hill.
Russ grew up in Hartford and West Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Joseph and Adelina Alda Accomasso Brignano. They were a hardworking family, and he had numerous jobs during high school, where he succeeded academically, in student government, and in sports. Known in West Hartford for his baseball skills, he also started on two high school state championship soccer teams.
He attended Dartmouth College on one of the first Daniel Webster National Scholarships, an academic award for young men of “unusual achievement and promise as students and citizens.” Russ loved and appreciated his Dartmouth education because it taught him to think, he said. An international relations major, he maintained a lifelong interest in foreign affairs. He was active in student government and a member of two honorary societies, Green Key and Casque & Gauntlet, as well as Sigma Nu fraternity. He remained a loyal donor to the college all his life.
At Dartmouth he also played freshman and varsity baseball. During college summers, he captained the American Legion West Hartford baseball team for two years and played on semi-pro teams in the Hartford, Connecticut, Twilight League.
After returning home from 18 months’ service in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, mainly in Schweinfurt, West Germany, he worked successfully in the Hartford insurance industry. He changed careers when he decided to go to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned his PhD in English in 1966. He came to Pittsburgh to teach at Carnegie Mellon University and later joined the Penn State system, teaching mainly at the Beaver Campus and also at the main campus and the University of Pittsburgh. He was the author of two books, Richard Wright: The Man and His Works (University of Pittsburgh Press), and Black Americans in Autobiography (Duke University Press) as well as numerous articles and reviews. He was the prime force behind the establishment of a significant collection of Black American autobiography at the Beaver Campus library. The collection was dedicated in his honor when he retired in 1997.
Although he and Mary enjoyed travel, Russ loved Pittsburgh from the start and never wanted to leave this friendly city with such easy access to the Pirates and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
In retirement Russ thoroughly enjoyed reading the daily Post-Gazette and New York Times, books, and The New Yorker. He loved the friends he made in his book group, which began meeting more than 30 years ago. His gardening skills produced delicious tomatoes, which he froze and relished throughout the winter. An avid follower of baseball, he attended more than 600 Major League games, mainly in Pittsburgh but also across the country and in Canada. He documented every game in his scorebooks.
He is survived by Mary, his wife and best friend. Other survivors include his brother Robert (Sally) of Danville, California; his sister Carolyn Constantine (Bill) of Newington, Connecticut; stepsister-in-law Joy Ramsey Shussett (David); stepbrother-in-law Duke Ramsey and stepsister-in-law Antoinette Ramsey Bittner; cousins-in-law Martha (Charles) Oliver and Kate (James) Lind; and nieces and nephews and their spouses. Survivors also include the Demarest family, dear friends who have been essentially family for over 55 years: Marlene (the late David), Victoria, James, and Elizabeth.
At Russ’s request, there will be no service; a private gathering may be scheduled in the future. If you would like to make a contribution in his memory, please consider the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Dartmouth College, or the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arrangements were handled by Strifflers of White Oak Cremation and Mortuary Services, Inc., 1100 Lincoln Way, White Oak, PA 15131 (Sue Striffler Galaski, supervisor, 412-678-6177).