John J. Bagnato, the humble and caring lawyer, herald as the “Father of Workers’ Compensation Law” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), died May 3, 2023 at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center surrounded by family. He was 79.
John was born on December 25, 1943 in Ferndale to Elizabeth (Castelli) and Anthony Bagnato, marking the beginning of a 79-year presence as the best present on Christmas. He was welcomed into the Bagnato family most excitedly by his older brother Francis (Butchie), who would serve as John’s best friend, confidant, and role model for the remainder of his life. The pair soon welcomed a brilliant and beautiful sister, Antoinette Josephine Schweitzer, and twelve years later another sister, Elizabeth Rita—who, admittedly, was so proud that the whole world celebrated her big brother’s birthday every December that she followed him into the law profession.
After graduating from Valley Forge Military Academy in 1961, John followed his brother to Washington and Jefferson College, where he joined his brother’s fraternity Beta Theta Pi and became an ROTC officer. He then pursued a law degree from the Franklin Thomas Backus School of Law of the Case Western Reserve University, graduating with honors while serving as the president of the Student Bar Association. In 1966, while still in law school, he married the love of his life, Camille (Brisini), a nurse, who he met while still in college, and the two began to build a life together in Cleveland, Ohio.
During the Vietnam Era, John served in the US Army Transpiration Corps as the Chief Transportation Movement Office, stationed in Sattahip and Bangkok, Thailand. Known for his devotion and character, his time in the service was summarized by his Colonel, saying, “All of your duties were performed in a dedicated and truly outstanding fashion.” After the war, he was honorably discharged at the rank of captain, returning back to Johnstown with his wife.
Following his service, John devoted himself to his law career at the law firm Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe & Rose. His achievements and compensations to his practice, clients, and the field of law are too numerous to list, but in a feeble attempt to cite the highlights: president and honorary director of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI; the educational arm of the PBA); president of the Cambria County Bar Association; chair of the PBA Workers’ Compensation; recipient of the PBA’s Irvin Stander Memorial Award, the Chief Justice John P. Flaherty Award, a PBA Special Recognition Award, and a PBA President’s Award for his work in the PBI. John tried—and won—two cases in front of the United States Supreme Court and was listed in Best Lawyers in America from 2004 until his retirement as the senior partner of Spence Custer in 2012.
Despite his numerous academic and professional achievements, John will be remembered most for his outstanding character and fierce devotion to those he loved. He was proud and active member of the board of directors of local YMCA, of which he was president from 2002-2004. He sponsored many AYSO soccer teams and supported various artistic projects and charitable organizations. He existed as a man, moral and true, acting with conviction and compassion. He believed in a handshake and one’s words, which to him weren’t clichés but honorable truths. He loved Peanuts, Paul Simon and Harry Belafonte, Seinfeld and M.A.S.H. He loved to watch his son play guitar and his daughter play with her sons. He loved to dance with his wife in the kitchen and hand drum at the dinner table. Above all, he loved his family, which extended far and knew no boundaries of blood or relation.
John is preceded in death by his parents, brother, and sister Elizabeth. He is survived by his wife, daughter Camille Bagnato, son John Francis married to Luana Reis, his grandsons John David and Harrison James, his sister Antoinette Schweitzer, sisters-in-law Patricia Brisini and Laura Fino, niece Devon Elizabeth Roane, and his extended family.
A celebration of life will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, May 8, 2023 at Frank Duca Funeral Home, Westmont Chapel, 1622 Menoher Blvd. Friends will be received following the service until 6 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Covenant House, one of John’s favorite charities, that builds a bridge of hope for young people in need.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of John J. Bagnato, please visit our floral store.