Donald Joseph Povejsil
Donald Joseph Povejsil died at home in the early morning of July 8, 2017. He was born on February 3, 1927 in Shaker Heights, Ohio to James and Alice Povejsil. Don’s loving and meaningful life centered on his family, work and communities. He was married to the love of his life, Dorsey, for 60 years until her passing in 2009. He celebrated his 90th birthday this year in the company of his children, grandchildren, great-granddaughter and their spouses and partners.
Don was fourteen years old when the country went to war following Pearl Harbor and patriotically attempted to enlist as a 15-year old. His second attempt to enlist succeeded when he was17 and he reported for duty to become a navy pilot. The Navy sent him to Oberlin College and then to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to prepare him to become a deck officer. While he was still in college, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Don observed that, as a result, he might actually live to see age twenty. Indeed the war was over before he could be deployed into combat, and at the advanced age of nineteen, Don was a college mathematics instructor to many returning veterans. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1948 with a BS in naval science and went on to earn an MS in electrical engineering.
At the University of Wisconsin, Don met Dorsey, the love of his life. According to Don, he and his fraternity brother, Tom Turner, had a double blind date with Dorsey and her sister, Barbara. As they walked toward the door of the sorority house, they switched dates for a better match of heights. In 1948, Don and Dorsey married in a double wedding ceremony with Tom and Barbara.
Don started working for Westinghouse while he was in college, and after graduation Westinghouse sent him to Pittsburgh, PA. When the Korean War broke out, he transferred to Baltimore to work on technologies for autopilot and airborne radar, co-authoring a book “Airborne Radar: Principles of Guided Missile Design.” Those early technology challenges foretold his eventual career focus on solving complex system problems.
Don worked at Westinghouse for almost forty years, mostly in Pittsburgh. He ran the research labs, built the nuclear fuel division from a startup to industry dominance, headed the large turbine division in Lester, PA., negotiated Westinghouse’s labor contracts as vice president for personnel and administration, and spent his last decade as Westinghouse’s top strategic planner. Don retired from Westinghouse in 1987, a status that lasted mere weeks before he launched an international consulting practice in partnership with his son, Jim. When Don retired for real in 1993, he and Dorsey decided to live fulltime in Litchfield Park, Arizona, where they had resided part time since 1986.
Don was a leader in community activities throughout his professional life and retirement. In the 1960’s, he was one of the drivers to build a library in the new suburb of Monroeville, PA – a surprisingly controversial advocacy that caused a no-new-taxes opponent to spit on him at Monroeville’s Miracle Mile shopping center. The library did get built and serves that community to this day, affirming Don’s love of books, reading, ideas, and self-edification. He championed opportunities for young people through involvement in Junior Achievement, and was a generous supporter of culture and the arts especially the Pittsburgh Ballet and Symphony. Later he provided bold and principled leadership for Magee Women’s Hospital and the Pittsburgh Blood Bank as those institutions wrestled with their responsibilities in times of seismic social change. In Arizona, Don and Dorsey worked to enrich community cultural life through their work with the West Valley Fine Arts Council and the Phoenix Ballet.
Don and Dorsey developed a deep commitment to their church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, where they found a welcoming community of faith. Together, they co-lead courses in Financial Peace stemming from their strong conviction that personal control over one’s finances forms the foundation for a happy life. He served on the Finance Committee and participated in numerous Bible study courses. He particularly treasured the friends he made at St Peter’s who gave him loving support and companionship after Dorsey died in 2009. The twice a month Saturday breakfast meetings with his men’s group were a highlight for him.
Don had wide-ranging interests, an extremely curious mind, a towering intellect, and a burning desire to learn new things. He read voraciously and deeply on topics of interest and became an expert on golf, football, baseball, the mathematics of card playing, investing, economics, business theory and strategy, world religions, philosophy, history, social commentary, and spirituality. He amassed a legendary library of books including dozens of volumes on Islam. Up until the time of his death, he met weekly with a lifelong learning group that worked their way through meaty courses published on DVD by the Teaching Company such as “Thinking About Capitalism”, “From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History”, and “36 Books That Changed the World”.
Don’s children know how lucky they are to have had a father who required that the family eat dinner together and talk with each other at the dinner table – even if conversation initially had to be nurtured by offering a ten-cent prize for the most interesting contribution. Family dinners still go on into the night. Don’s grandchildren are grateful for the high value that he and Dorsey placed on education, and the generosity that allowed them to finish college without the burden of debt. Don’s entire family is enriched for experiencing his ninety years of contrarian thought, unwavering commitment to personal responsibility, bold generosity, and a resolute moral core. A fascinating conversationalist, he surprised and delighted us with his impish (perhaps even subversive) sense of humor. We will miss him every day.
Don was thankful for the love, laughter and caring given to him by Della Lelakowski, Emma Ziah, and Gae Chalker. These amazing Arizona women made Don’s last years happy ones, and his family is so grateful to them.
Don was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Dorsey Biddick Povejsil, his son, John C. Povejsil, his sister, Polly Povejsil Schmahl, and his brother, James H. Povejsil. He leaves his daughters Alice, Polly (Tom), and Katie (Bill) and his son Jim (Carmen), nine grandchildren (Ben, Phoebe, Polly, Tyler, Elise, Alex, Bruno, Max and Nora), and his great granddaughter Alice, who carries that family name into a new generation.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, September 2, 2017, at 11 am St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ.