Lifelong fundraiser, symphony supporter, Elliott Oshry has died
News obituaryActive at Temple Sinai, JAA

Lifelong fundraiser, symphony supporter, Elliott Oshry has died

Executive vice president at Ketchum

Elliott Stephen Oshry (Photo courtesy of Oshry family)
Elliott Stephen Oshry (Photo courtesy of Oshry family)

Jodi Weisfield grew up Jewish in Squirrel Hill and worked for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2005. But it wasn’t until she returned as a major gifts officer in 2008, amid an $80 million capital campaign, that she met Elliott Oshry.

In addition to serving as primary campaign counsel and, later, as a board member, Oshry frequently attended symphony performances and adored the orchestra’s work.

“We talked multiple times a day — he took me under his wing and taught me this profession,” said Weisfield, today the executive director of development for the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and the College of Business Administration.

“He was so encouraging — he was such a cheerleader — and he gave you a lot of confidence in yourself,” Weisfield, who attends Rodef Shalom in Shadyside, said. “He really worked to create a culture of giving.”

Elliott Stephen Oshry, a lifelong Pittsburgh fundraiser who gave of himself while asking others to give to the organizations he cherished and championed, died on Sept. 6 following a battle with cancer.

Oshry, the younger of two children, was raised in Pittsburgh by a hard-working single mother who did bookkeeping, sometimes at Webster Hall Hotel, to pay the bills, his brother DeeJay Oshry said. The family of three lived with Oshry’s grandmother. Oshry’s mother, Clarice Oshry, née Berer, died in 1985.

Oshry became a bar mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, where he later served as a board member and stayed active into his 70s. He became more dedicated to his Judaism after a trip to Israel around 10 or 15 years ago, his brother said. Before Friday night services every week, he liked to greet congregants at the synagogue’s door.

“We both grew up with my mother saying, ‘Our lives are private,’” DeeJay Oshry said. “We learned we didn’t talk to people about money.”

“So, we both went into fundraising.”

Oshry entered the fundraising world in 1973, after graduating from Duquesne University, where he worked on the school newspaper, The Duquesne Duke. He received a master’s degree from West Virginia University.

In his early years, Oshry worked in public relations for Rockwell International, an American manufacturing company previously based in Pittsburgh, and even ran a newspaper, The Revere. Later, he worked at Ketchum, a communications consultancy where his brother also worked, and as an independent fundraiser. At Ketchum, he climbed the ranks to the position of executive vice president.

“He was a very effective listener but, even more, he could get to the heart of the matter — and he didn’t believe in soft-peddling board members,” DeeJay Oshry said. “He was a communicator, he was a teacher, he was a mentor. And all of these things made him an effective fundraiser.”

Oshry had several sayings, but fundraiser Andrea Glickman recalled one recently on the social media network LinkedIn: “Generosity is not a matter of wealth, it’s a matter of character.”

“Rest in peace, Elliott,” wrote Glickman, a philanthropist who served as executive director of the Pittsburgh section of the National Council of Jewish Women from 2013 to 2017. “Although I didn’t know you for very long, your words and your impact will stay with me forever. #philanthropymatters”

Oshry was active with groups like the Jewish Association on Aging and Winchester Thurston School, his brother said. He served on the boards of Allies Health and Wellness, and the Fred Rogers Co.

Oshry fundraised passionately for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he had served since 2011 as a board member.

“He was thoroughly engrossed in this organization,” said Melia Tourangeau, the orchestra’s president and CEO. “He was really articulate and passionate and authentic. And he really drove home the (organization’s) needs in a very effective way.”

“He was committed to this orchestra,” she added. “It was really special.”

Oshry also believed deeply in the mission of Winchester Thurston, said Scott Fech, its head of school.

“Elliott was a dedicated partner to Winchester Thurston School for more than two decades, leading several campaign efforts, and freely sharing his wisdom, knowledge and expertise in philanthropy,” Fech told the Chronicle. “He believed deeply in our school’s mission, and his dedication to philanthropy was unmatched. He poured his heart into his work here at WT and with countless other mission-based organizations throughout the city and region.”

Oshry worked for 11 years as a consultant at KidsVoice, which provides legal representation and other advocacy to abused and neglected children in the Allegheny County child welfare and foster care systems.

At KidsVoice, Oshry’s work “touched so many lives,” remembered Scott Hollander, the organization’s executive director.

“Beyond his skills and work, anyone I know who met Elliott always said what a good man he is,” Hollander said. “He had a rare combination and unique gift of grace, calm, earnestness and goodness that put everyone at ease and made everything seem more positive and capable.”

“We’re a better and stronger team and organization because of Elliott,” he added. “His was a life well lived.”

Oshry grew up mostly in Squirrel Hill but lived later in Oakland and Pittsburgh’s West End — in, oddly enough, the Elliot neighborhood.

“We always said we couldn’t find a place called DeeJay,” his brother laughed.

For the last 12 years, Oshry lived in a Squirrel Hill home with his brother and his brother’s partner, Bart; the elder brother called it “really perfect” and “a great arrangement.” Until recently, they would go with friends every December to a bed-and-breakfast in Key West, Florida. It was their time to unplug.

Oshry was frequently on a plane traveling for capital campaigns nationwide. Years ago, DeeJay Oshry tried to pump the brakes with a trip to Europe.

“He said, ‘Oh, every city is the same as the last,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go to Paris,’” DeeJay Oshry recalled. “We landed, he looked out at the city, and he said, ‘Well, I haven’t been here before.’ And that was the beginning of a travel bug.”

Though he traveled more in recent years, Oshry remained passionate about fundraising, working nearly to the end.

And, until the end, he remained extremely close to his brother.

“I kind of have to learn how to live all over again,” DeeJay Oshry said. “We worked together. We lived together. We played together. He was a very intimate part of my life.”

“And there are a lot of people who are able to say that.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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