Harry J. Gruener, a top family practice lawyer who was instrumental in designing and implementing Pitt’s family law clinic and teaching students the skills to represent its low-income clients, died March 11, 2022 at 77.
“He was a teacher through and through,” said David Herring, School of Law faculty member and founding director of the school’s clinical legal education program, which includes the family law clinic.
Gruener first joined the school as an adjunct faculty member, teaching its large family law course, which was required of students but not exactly their favorite subject, Herring recalled. “He got rave reviews from his students. Harry viewed it as a kind of performance, engaging them as part of a large class.”
When the family law clinic started, Gruener was hired full-time in 1990 for that work. Each semester he took eight to 10 students downtown to help prepare and represent clients in divorce proceedings — clients who could not otherwise afford lawyers.
Gruener, Herring said, taught “much more than the law — it was human relationships, how to interview somebody, how to deal with the judge’s questions. That’s what he offered the students.
“We were good friends and would often talk about his teaching and how he was preparing,” Herring said. “He just lived and breathed this stuff.”
Overall, Herring added, “Harry was just such a positive person. He was always upbeat and he had a high sense of adventure. He knew how to have fun,” from golfing — where he still kept coaching Herring toward a better game, he said — to his red Corvette, coaxing Herring off the street, if Gruener passed by, to lunch in another part of town. “He was just a joy,” Herring said.
Gruener was born and raised in West View and graduated from North Hills High School. He earned his B.A. and J.D. degrees from Pitt and began his career as a civil trial lawyer in state and federal courts, eventually concentrating on family law for more than two dozen years. He founded the law firm Goldberg, Gruener, Gentile, Horoho & Avalli and was a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, serving as president of the Pennsylvania Chapter in 2000 and 2001. He was a member and former chairman of both the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Section and Allegheny County Bar Association.
He was also a member of the advisory committee responsible for guiding the 2005 legislative amendments to the Pennsylvania divorce code.
At Pitt, Gruener was clinical associate professor of law and associate director of family law curriculum. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the graduating law school classes in 2005 and 2012 — a rare distinction — and in 2009 was awarded the School of Law Distinguished Alumni Award. He also earned the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 2013.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Christine (Larson); children Gretchen Busquets (Miguel) and Rachel Kress (Paul); and grandchildren Marisa and Talia Busquets and Catie and Jay Kress.
Memorial gifts are suggested to Animal Friends, 562 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237.