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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: John J. Grove / Key player in Renaissance I, the creation of Point State Park

Friday, February 01, 2002

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In 1936, two years after he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, John J. Grove was tapped for a special assignment: hosting tours for people who wanted to visit the campus' spectacular new neo-Gothic skyscraper.

From June to August 1936, Mr. Grove led more than 6,000 people from all over the world up to the Cathedral of Learning's 36th floor, answering questions and noting points of interest "with a flourish and a smile," as The Pittsburgh Press reported.

It was the beginning of a career as a Pittsburgh proselytizer that ultimately led to Mr. Grove's playing a key role in the city's first renaissance and the development of Point State Park.

Mr. Grove, who was 90, died Saturday in Los Angeles of natural causes. His health had been in decline since a kidney infection in December, said his wife, Jo. The Groves moved to Sherman Oaks, Calif., four years ago to be near their daughter and her family.

When John and Jo Grove married in 1960, The Press called him "one of the town's more eligible bachelors." And why not? At 48, Mr. Grove was the personable assistant director of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the powerhouse group of corporate executives that tackled smoke and flood control and Downtown redevelopment. During the 1950s, Mr. Grove had become a leader in selling the city's renewal here and elsewhere, in speeches to local groups and at national conferences.

And oh yes, "he used to drive a Chrysler convertible and people thought that was pretty cool," said Robert Pease, the conference's former executive director.

But that wasn't what attracted his future wife.

"Johnny was an absolute perfect gentleman, and he was interested in so many things and so many people and involved in so much," Jo Grove said Wednesday morning, a few hours before her husband's funeral in Los Angeles.

With his marriage, she said, her husband acquired a ready-made family, and soon became a devoted father to his wife's two children from a previous marriage.

In 1939, Mr. Grove, who had studied history and public relations at Pitt, left the university to become public relations director for the new Buhl Planetarium. During the war, he served in the Lend-Lease and Foreign Economic administrations in Washington, D.C. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1947 as public relations director for the Allegheny Conference, and in 1952 became assistant director, in charge of documenting and communicating the conference's work through written reports and speeches.

"He was a person who could do anything," said Pease, who joined the conference as an engineer in 1953 and later became its leader. One thing Pease was especially grateful for: "One of my weak suits is remembering names, and he used to stand close to me at functions and whisper names to me."

By 1962, Mr. Grove, who grew up in Pittsburgh's East End, was telling the Parent-Teacher Association's regional conference that "the race to the suburbs" was no solution to urban problems.

"These smug suburbs should realize that in 10 to 15 years, they will be facing the same problems" as East Liberty and the North Side, Mr. Grove said.

Press coverage played an essential role in creating public understanding of and support for the conference's work. As secretary of the conference committee on Point State Park, Mr. Grove kept newspaper reporters well supplied with background stories and photographs, writes Robert C. Alberts in "The Shaping of the Point," his 1980 book on the park's creation.

"Every time we went to Harrisburg to get a major decision, we had a big spread in the Pittsburgh papers the day before that explained what we were doing and why it was needed," an anonymous conference member told Alberts. "The gentlemen in the offices in Harrisburg had the stories laid out on the table before them, so that half our work had been done for us before we arrived."

After retiring from the conference in 1975, Mr. Grove became the state's supervisor in the operation and maintenance of the completed park.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a stepson, Robert Royer of Laughlin, Nev.; a stepdaughter, Carol Coller, of Los Angeles; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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