James LaFrankie, 82, water-utility executive

Posted: October 14, 2009

James V. LaFrankie, 82, retired head of American Water and a former Moorestown resident, died Thursday of melanoma at home in Cary, N.C.

In 1984, Mr. LaFrankie became president of American Water, which operated water utilities in 20 states. He had begun working for the company in 1948 as a part-time shipping clerk while in college.

When Congress extended the EPA's mandate to clean up the nation's drinking water in 1986, Mr. LaFrankie told The Inquirer that American Water was in a position to take over local waterworks and upgrade their facilities to comply with the myriad new rules for purity including reducing lead, radon, and other contaminants.

When Mr. LaFrankie retired in 1991, American Water issued a statement remarking on the "indelible mark" he'd left on the company, which "experienced tremendous growth under his leadership." Mr. LaFrankie continued to serve on American Water's board and was chairman of a subsidiary, American Water Works Service Co., until 1992.

Mr. LaFrankie grew up in Elizabeth, Pa., the second of seven children. He received his diploma from Elizabeth High School but missed his graduation because he was serving in World War II. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 1945, during his senior year, and served in North China.

After his discharge in 1947, he attended the University of Pittsburgh and worked for Monongahela Valley Water Co., a subsidiary of American Water.

In 1950, he was called back to active duty and served in Korea during the Korean War. Afterward, he returned to Monongahela Valley Water, where he was construction inspector. In 1954, he joined a water-pipeline project in Virginia. While there, he earned a bachelor's degree in business management from Georgetown University at night.

By 1967, Mr. LaFrankie was president of American Water-owned companies in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. He was president of American Water Works Service Co. in Philadelphia before becoming president of American Water. The company's headquarters in Voorhees was built under his leadership.

Since 1954, Mr. LaFrankie had been married to Nancy Weigel LaFrankie. They grew up on the same street in Elizabeth. After his retirement, the couple spent winters in Williamsburg, Va., and summers in Avalon, N.J. They moved to North Carolina last year to be near family.

Mr. LaFrankie was drawn to Williamsburg because of his passion for Revolutionary War history, his son William said. He was also a Civil War buff and organized reunions in Williamsburg and Gettysburg for up to 150 relatives, his son said.

Mr. LaFrankie was an avid golfer and collected baseball and football cards and U.S. coins and stamps.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by sons Terrence, James, Mark, and Kenneth; daughters Donna Ambrose and Jane; four brothers; a sister; and 16 grandchildren.

A Funeral Mass was said on Monday at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church, Cary.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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