Before Miraja Gavrilova came to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh came to her — in her native Yugoslavia.

She’d been born in the rural village of Zrnovči in the fall of 1949 and later moved with her family to the big city of Skopje (now the capital of what is North Macedonia). That’s where Marija — whose parents were a high school French teacher and a kindergarten teacher and children’s book author — survived the 1963 earthquake, went to high school and then graduated with a degree in English language and literature from St. Cyril and Methodius University.

While working there, she met a professor visiting from the University of Pittsburgh named William Dunn. She was his interpreter. Then she was his wife, as they married in Skopje in 1971, before she immigrated to the U.S. with him. They lived in Highland House Tower in Highland Park before they moved and continued raising their own family in O’Hara.

Marija Dunn, Ph.D., died on Feb. 25 at Northland Heights assisted living in Ross, where she’d resided for about a year, from complications of corticobasal degeneration, a rare condition in which the loss of brain cells reduces movement and memory, speech and swallowing. She was 74 years old.

Her daughter, Elizabeth Dunn, a Shaler Area School District board member who for the past five years was her primary caregiver, said her mother devoted her life and love to her and her brother, Alexander. “A true example of a modern working mom, Marija juggled parenting, classes and then work with grace and unending dedication to her goals and family,” wrote her daughter in her obituary.

Always interested in learning, Marija Dunn decided to continue her education in 1987 at Pitt, where her husband was a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. She earned a master’s degree in research methodology and a doctorate in developmental psychology from the School of Psychology in Education, where she also taught.

“She had an incredibly quick, witty, sometimes extremely sarcastic, dry sense of humor,” he daughter told the Union Progress. “To the point that we were sometimes, ‘Ouch.’ ”

She went on to work for what’s now UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital as a researcher in the Schizophrenia Center and at the Center for Education and Drug Abuse Research (CEDAR) project. One paper she co-authored is titled “Origins and consequences of child neglect in substance abuse families.”

She loved working on mental health issues, drawing on the ones in her own life, her daughter said. “She was just an incredible mind but also an incredible heart.”

The family regularly traveled back to North Macedonia and elsewhere.

In the past 20 years, her daughter wrote, Marija Dunn, who divorced in 1999, turned her focus to her grandchildren. “At the core of Marija’s heart was the deep love she had for her family and friends. While she was incredibly proud of her personal and professional accomplishments, Marija always said at the end of ours days, knowing how much we love one another is truly the only thing that matters.”

Her funeral was held on Friday, March 1, at Burket-Truby Funeral Home in Oakmont, where her daughter read a poem her mother wrote.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Eftim and Jordana Gavrilova, as well as her former husband William Dunn. In addition to her daughter and her son (who lives in Dillon, Montana) and nine grandchildren, she is survived by her brother Emil Gavriloski and two nieces in Skopje, North Macedonia, as well as her dear friend, caregiver and stepmother to her children, Marianne Dunn of O’Hara.

Marija Dunn’s cremated remains were divided among three urns: one for each of her children and another that they will take to North Macedonia, says her daughter, “So she can go home.”

Elizabeth Dunn said that her mother raised her children with values “centered around workers and compassion” and would never cross a picket line, even in death. So, as they discussed near the end of her life, her daughter did not pay to have her obituary published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where workers in five unions have been on strike for 17 months. The Union Progress does not typically publish obituaries but is happy to do this one as a courtesy for the family’s solidarity and story.

Marija (Gavrilova) Dunn. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Dunn)

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at

Bob Batz Jr.

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at