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Officer guided by lifelong compassion for youths

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, November 4, 2014 11:48 p.m
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Pittsburgh police Officer Victor ‘Kojak’ Balsamico (left) with his namesake from TV's 'Kojak,' Telly Savalas.

V’Kojak Balsamico used his position as a Pittsburgh police officer to try to help troubled youths and anyone he came across.

“He didn’t have the nerve to become a priest, so he ministered on his streets,” said his wife of 20 years, Mary Balsamico. “I used to call him ‘the people’s policeman.’ ”

Victor “Kojak” Balsamico of Hampton died Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, in the Good Samaritan Hospice House in Wexford. He was 79.

Born Feb. 21, 1935, he was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Markazy Balsamico.

During the Korean War, Mr. Balsamico lied about his age to get in the Navy, where he spent eight years and was once thrown in the brig for tossing food to hungry Koreans.

“Ever since he was young, he had that compassion for people,” said his wife.

She said he would often take youths he was sent to arrest to lunch rather than to jail.

“When my husband took those calls, I’m sure the kid got a lecture,” she said. “But he totally looked for good in people no matter what the situation.”

He was a devout Catholic.

“If someone was shot or in a car accident and he knew they wouldn’t make it, he always carried his holy water,” she said. “He would bless them and pray with them.”

In retirement, he grew a beard, she said, and children on the street would take him for Santa Claus.

“There have to be hundreds of kids that had their picture taken with him,” she said. “He had the personality for it. He enjoyed it.”

She said they once went to see reindeer at a local mall and her husband, in his red hat and scarf, drew a larger crowd than the mall Santa.

“He felt so bad,” she said.

He got his nickname, Kojak, because of his resemblance to the 1970s TV character of the same name, also a police officer.

In addition to his wife, Mary, Mr. Balsamico is survived by his sons, Anthony, Joe and Mike Balsamico. He was preceded in death by a brother, Joe.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hampton with the Rev. Mariusz Mularczyk officiating. Interment will follow in Assumption Cemetery in Hampton.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902or mguza@tribweb.com.

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