Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clifford L. Fair June 15, 1918 - Aug. 29, 2016 Longtime Referee of Many a Game Worked Hard to Live Up to His Name

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clifford L. Fair June 15, 1918 - Aug. 29, 2016 Longtime Referee of Many a Game Worked Hard to Live Up to His Name

Article excerpt

He had a great name for a referee, did Clifford L. Fair.

And by many accounts, he was a fair and excellent ref. He officiated high school and college basketball and football from the 1940s into the 1970s. Big games such as the University of Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia, Pitt vs. Duquesne, and even a Sugar Bowl. And hundreds of little games. His many honors include being inducted in 2008 into the hall of fame for the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, for which he was the first Class AAAA supervisor of football officials.

But what sticks with his daughter Michele Baumgartel of Mars - whom he always called "Mike" - was watching him ref a basketball game for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. "I couldn't believe it, but even deaf people booed him!"

She asked him how he handled it. "I don't listen to them," he replied. "I'm worried about the game."

"He was tough," she said.

Mr. Fair of Penn Hills, known to many as "Lefty," died Monday, about a week after it was discovered that he had cancer. He was 98 and left a big stamp on many in the region, especially in sports.

He was born in 1918 in Point Breeze, where his family lived on the H.J. Heinz estate because his father was Mr. Heinz's private driver. Mr. Fair was named for one of the boss' sons.

His family wound up in Shaler. He was a 1936 graduate of Shaler High School, where he was captain of the football and basketball teams, as well as senior class president. He had a college scholarship lined up until he blew out his knee and couldn't play sports.

That's why, after a few years coaching semiprofessional football, he turned to officiating. But that was just a sidelight to his full-time jobs, which included Pennsylvania Railroad cop.

Later, he was superintendent of North Park. He stayed with the Allegheny County Parks Department for 37 years until he retired in 1983 as superintendent of operations, a Downtown courthouse role in which he helped grow and improve the park system.

After his day job, he officiated, driving to games around the region and the East Coast on many weekdays and most every weekend.

At one point, he turned down a chance to officiate in pro basketball, noted his son, Jeremy, of Belvedere, Calif., who was one of four children he raised with his wife, Rita.

Officiating colleagues agree with his assessment that Mr. Fair was "one of the best at what he did" and a great teacher.

"He would be the one guy, if I had a choice in a tough game, I'd like to work with him," said his best friend, Earl Ceh of McCandless. He recalls officiating a close basketball game at Alliance College after which the angry coach threw their paychecks on the floor. Mr. Fair told Mr. Ceh, "Don't you dare pick that up." Before they drove off, the coach had wised up and brought their pay to them. …

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