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Visionary behind many Pittsburgh entities

Tribune-Review
| Monday, December 10, 2018 4:12 p.m

James H. Knowles Jr. was a visionary whose work in finance and health care management helped create several Pittsburgh institutions that are still going strong.

“He loved the city,” said his wife, Sherin. “He was a Pittsburgher, and he believed in UPMC and the University (of Pittsburgh) and all the powers-that-be that run the various parts of the hospital today.”

Mr. Knowles, chairman of Eye and Ear Hospital, Oakland, in the 1970s and early ’80s, worked with
Dr. Thomas Detre and others to create the framework of UPMC as it exists today, she said.

“I think he was invested in Pittsburgh,” said his nephew, Jay Knowles.

James H. Knowles Jr. of Ligonier died Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh. He was 78.

Born in Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, 1940, he was the first son of Gretchen Rose and James H. Knowles Sr. He attended Shady Side Academy and graduated from Philips Academy in Andover.

He graduated from Yale University and obtained his MBA from Harvard University. He began his financial career at Pittsburgh National Bank in 1964.

“He didn’t apply to any other banks (other than Pittsburgh banks),” his wife said. “He wanted to be a resident of Pittsburgh.”

A former PNC Financial Services Group executive-turned-venture-
capitalist, he helped the bank form its first private equity/venture capital
firm. PNC’s three spinoff private equity funds raised more than
$1 billion, Jay Knowles said.

Mr. Knowles was instrumental in the formation of the Cohen & Grigsby law firm, Eat’n Park Restaurants and other Pittsburgh brands, Mrs. Knowles said.

Diagnosed with cancer on the same day as his brother, Albert, in 1998, he collaborated with his brother’s widow in 2000 to form the Albert P. Knowles Research Fund at the Hillman Cancer Institute at UPMC Shadyside.

The fund’s goal was to raise
$3 million toward cancer research at the institute, Jay Knowles said.

Mr. Knowles also helped recruit several UPMC executives to Pittsburgh, including Dr. Joel Nelson, chairman of the Department of Urology, and Dr. Ronald Herberman, who headed the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

He was a lifelong Steelers and
Pirates fan.

Mr. Knowles is survived by his wife of 57 years, Sherin Hetherington Knowles; three children, Janet K. Johnson, of Greenland, N.H., Pack A. Knowles, of Rye, N.H., and Sherin K. Spofford and her husband, Charles, of Concord, Mass.; six grandchildren; and a brother.

A memorial service for Mr. Knowles will be held in the spring and will be announced later.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, 203 Lothrop St., Suite 251, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, or to Pressley Ridge, 5500 Corporate Drive, Suite 400, Pittsburgh, PA 15237.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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