Todd Rascoe was many things to many people.
A son of Pittsburgh’s South Hills, he graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School and Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied mathematics and computer science. He then launched a globe-hopping career helping write the foundations of today’s modern software, during which he lived in Israel, saw the Berlin Wall fall in Germany and watched apartheid end in South Africa.
A family man who was cool under pressure, Rascoe was fiercely loyal to his Judaism, passionate about the music and meaning of prayer and often the cement among members of his close-knit community.
“Todd was one of those unique and lovable Jewish men of our century,” said Rabbi Stephen Steindel, who led Rascoe’s graveside service at the Beth El section of Mt. Lebanon Cemetery on Oct. 1. “He was a passionate guy in a very kind of moderate façade [and] he was a very positive role model and an inspiration to many people.”
Rascoe died Sept. 28 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the neurodegenerative affliction that also claimed the lives of his mother, Jeanne, and, just six months ago, his brother David. He was 60 and leaves behind a wife, three children and a son-in-law; a father, brother and sister; and countless friends and relatives whose lives he touched.
Rascoe grew up in Mt. Lebanon and his family regularly attended Shabbat services at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, where he became a bar mitzvah in 1974. Steindel, then a self-described “rookie rabbi,” officiated at the service. An occasional guest at Rascoe family dinners on Friday nights, Steindel remembers playing street hockey with Todd and his brother during those years.
“He was a mensch [and] he got his hands dirty — he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk,” said Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, who has served the Beth El community for the past 20 years. “His family helped make the Beth El that was made for me. … Todd was a force and he made sure people did the right thing.”
At the end of his junior year in high school, Rascoe took a multi-week USY trip to Israel, where he met his wife, Batia, then a high school freshman from Ashkelon volunteering during the trip. The two remained pen pals through Rascoe’s CMU semester abroad in Israel and his later move to Israel. While Batia was serving in the Israel Defense Forces, they started dating and married in their early twenties. They celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
In Israel, Rascoe became a database developer for a startup, then he and Batia, an aspiring architecture student, moved to Frankfurt just as the Iron Curtain was falling.
“We were a young couple and he was very proud to be in Germany, in Europe, representing an Israeli company, being Jewish — he felt he was an important bridge and it was something that really embodied his personal philosophy,” Batia Rascoe told the Chronicle. “We were surrounded by geniuses, geeks, and he was very talented. But what was unique about him was he had very strong people skills and emotional intelligence, before that term was a thing.”
The family returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-90s, as Rascoe’s mother fell ill with ALS. Rascoe took a vice president of manufacturing job with his brother at Thermal Industries, where he became fiercely protective of his staff and, in the words of one engineer then at the company, “brought us into modernity.”
“Todd and his brother railed back against the big corporate owners and they kept talent,” said Jeffrey Wagner, a former engineer for 24 years at Thermal Industries. “The corporate people wanted to get rid of the high-salary people like engineers and Todd realized, without them, you don’t innovate.”
“Todd was always a calming voice — when there was a lot of stress, he was cool and collected,” Wagner told the Chronicle. “If it wasn’t for Todd, my career wouldn’t be where it is today … I’m definitely thankful for Todd being a part of my life journey. He was a good guy.”
While living in Squirrel Hill, the Rascoes became involved at Congregation Beth Shalom, where Todd Rascoe played key roles in the “library minyan” — a precursor to current, more inclusive services at the shul — and the development of J-JEP, a shared educational partnership between Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation.
“He was a constant presence in the congregation and in front, leading the congregation,” said Dr. Jonathan Weinkle, a Squirrel Hill physician and a self-described “shul friend” of Rascoe’s. “With the roles he played over the past eight to 10 years, he had a large hand stabilizing Beth Shalom financially and ensuring we’ll be around for many more years — he was one of the hands that righted the ship.”
“Beth Shalom will really miss his presence,” Weinkle added. “That’s a loss.”
Rascoe became active at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and served for more than a decade on the organization’s Community Relations Council.
“The first time you spoke to Todd, it was really obvious he was an incredibly intelligent person — his intelligence and his passion came across right away,” said Laura Cherner, the director of the CRC.
Israel was a key issue for Rascoe, according to several people who knew him.
“Todd — he knew something about a lot of things,” said Jonathan Budd, a friend of Rascoe’s. “He was very engaged with Israeli politics and he kept up to speed over the years with anything going on in Israel.”
“That concept of Zionism, the Jewish homeland — it was very important to him,” Cherner said.
In Squirrel Hill, Rascoe befriended Jewish families like the Budds. Jonathan Budd, who grew up in Minneapolis and moved to Pittsburgh in 1994, met Rascoe when their wives took an aerobics class together at Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Budd, whose family attends Dor Hadash, said that “Todd and Batia are very friendly, warm and welcoming people — we saw that right away.
“The one thing about Todd is he was so proud of his kids,” Budd said. “If something was going well for them, he’d share the news — not as braggadocio, but in pride.”
“We used to say we parented deliberately,” Batia Rascoe said. “Todd invented all sorts of teaching methods for the kids, and he constantly invented things to teach them about life. He was a beaming dad. He was so proud.”
“His family was very important to him and his community was very important to him,” said Budd, whose son is roughly the same age as Ariel Rascoe, Todd and Batia’s middle child, now 27. “He was a very loyal person — whether to his synagogue or his employees — and very ethical.”
Rascoe’s eldest daughter, Shira, proudly recalled how her father got involved in all aspects of her, Ariel’s and Amallia’s education at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill. He even stayed at the school late in the evenings to lend his computer science background as they ran wiring through the Forward Avenue campus.
But what Shira Rascoe identifies with most when she thinks of her father is his compassion.
“He was a really good friend and a close friend,” she told the Chronicle.
“He was collecting people,” she laughed. “Everywhere he went, he met people. And he kept people close and kept in touch.”
“He had a magnetic personality,” Batia Rascoe added. “People gravitated to him … and he had a great ability to listen to people. He was a fundamentally human and generous person.”
Batia Rascoe remembers the couple’s time in Germany, when they occasionally would go to a nearby U.S. Army encampment to attend services at a chapel that was a synagogue on Saturdays and a church on Sundays. One holiday season, Rascoe led services there and davened passionately.
“Every day he used to say to us, at least one time, ‘We are so blessed,’” Batia Rascoe said. “He was a positive, caring person until the last minute.
“He appreciated every little thing.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writing living in Pittsburgh.