The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

In the hours after Gene Vittone’s life ended, he was being remembered for the lives he helped save.

The late Washington County district attorney was being recalled for his aggressive and canny efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has washed over this region in recent years, and for his work earlier as an emergency medical technician. He was also being remembered as a public servant who was compassionate and committed.

After Vittone’s death last weekend at age 61 following a yearlong bout with lung cancer, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association released a statement calling Vittone “affable and gracious,” and pointing out that Vittone “will be remembered for the tremendous contributions he made for the betterment of his community and his profession. His big heart and kind soul will be deeply missed.”

The association, which Vittone became the president of in late July, highlighted his efforts to create the Washington Opioid Overdose Coalition. The organization includes local hospitals, churches, the county coroner’s office, and individuals who have recovered from addiction, and is designed to increase awareness, reduce stigmas and coordinate work between agencies. Vittone also worked to make Naloxone, the medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, more widely available within Washington County.

Steve Kaufman, the acting U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, said Vittone was “a great friend of our office and an unwavering partner in the fight to combat the opioid crisis.”

Vittone worked hard to help those who had tumbled into opioid addiction, but he also was tough on the dealers who inflicted pain on communities throughout this region by selling heroin, illegally made fentanyl and other drugs. Although the opioid epidemic showed signs of ebbing by early 2020, it gathered steam again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as individuals lost jobs, support networks and treatment opportunities. The work will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and Vittone’s absence will be intensely felt.

Vittone also possessed an admirable work ethic. Despite dealing with cancer over the last year, he remained engaged with his job, attending conferences and taking on roles with statewide agencies. Just before he died, he called Jason Walsh, who will be taking over for Vittone, to let him know how he could manage the district attorney’s office.

Walsh explained to the Observer-Reporter‘s Mike Jones, “He was fulfilling his duties. Gene cared greatly about his office.”

The best way for any of us to honor Vittone’s memory is learn from his example.

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