Former Pa. governor William Scranton dies at 96
By Brad Bumsted and Salena Zito
Published: Monday, July 29, 2013, 11:56 a.m.
Updated 2 minutes ago
HARRISBURG — Former Gov. William Scranton Jr., who left his mark on state government with sweeping education reform that remains in place, died Sunday at age 96.
A family spokesman said Scranton, governor from 1963-67, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at a retirement community in Montecito, Calif. He had a home in Waverly, just outside the city of Scranton.
Scranton was United Nations Ambassador in 1976-77. He chaired the commission that investigated the 1970 shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University.
“Governor Scranton was a world-class leader in government. He will be remembered as a man of humility, honesty, dignity and integrity,” said Gov. Tom Corbett. “He was a member of ‘The Greatest Generation,’ putting his own dreams on hold to serve as a pilot during World War II, returning home to lead by example as he served his fellow Pennsylvanians.”
Scranton was a member of President Gerald Ford’s transition team and a director of a long line of corporations, from IBM and the H.J. Heinz Co. to the New York Times. During World War II he was a transport pilot for the Army Air Forces.
As governor he separated higher and basic education and oversaw the creation of community colleges, said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University.
“He prioritized education, economic development and job creation,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat. “When he left office after four years as governor, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was one of the lowest ever.”
Former reporter John Taylor, who became a spokesman under three governors who served later, said the Scranton administration’s establishment of the community college system helped in “making higher education more affordable to kids from low- and middle-income families.”
Pennsylvania expanded state parks during Scranton’s tenure and performed major rehabilitation of bridges and highways. The state Department of Community Affairs, now part of another agency, was created to focus on problems of local governments.
“It was four years of an awful lot of changes and progress for Pennsylvania,” said his son, Bill Scranton, a former lieutenant governor. His father’s interactions with people of all walks of life helped spur his success.
“He just liked people,” the younger Scranton said. “He honored them and cared about them. He just had a touch. People liked him. He genuinely respected people of all backgrounds. He never looked down on people.”
Scranton’s death “signals the end of the moderate wing of the Republican Party,” Leckrone said. “That wing of the party no longer seems to be in order nationally or in Pennsylvania.”
Scranton briefly ran for president in 1964, when the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona won the Republican nomination.
Former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster of Altoona called his longtime friend and fellow Republican a “fine man” who had a way of “lighting a room up wherever he went.”
Scranton was willing to compromise to get things done, Shuster said.
“That does not mean he compromised on principles; you never do that,” said Shuster, 81. “But he was able to get compromise on issues to move legislation. (He) was willing to sit down and talk with all sides — something missing today.”
Scranton served one term in Congress, from 1961-63. He became known as a “Kennedy Republican” who supported some of former President John F. Kennedy’s programs on civil rights and the Peace Corps, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
He won the Scranton congressional seat in a Democratic district — helped by having the same name as the city named for his ancestors who opened mines and railroads in the mid-1800s.
Party leaders liked him for governor as a Yale University graduate and a “Mr. Clean, moderate Republican with a progressive agenda,” said Madonna, who noted that Democratic voters for the first time in 1960 outnumbered Republicans. “In the 1960s Pennsylvania became a two-party state.”
In 1962, as a popular congressman, Scranton defeated Democrat Richardson Dillworth, who touted credentials as a reformer and Philadelphia mayor.
Scranton became Pennsylvania’s 38th governor, serving one term — the maximum at the time. Following a change in the state constitution that allowed successive terms, every governor elected since has served two terms.
“He was someone who had an enormous amount of class,” said Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County Republican Committee chairman.”He looked like a governor, sort of that patrician look. He was a real statesman.”
In an interview with the Tribune-Review in 2011, Scranton talked about the death of former first lady Betty Ford. He met when both were congressmen and helped with Ford’s transition to the presidency in August 1974, following Richard Nixon’s resignation at the height of the Watergate scandal.
“It was such a very difficult period in our country. The wounds were still very raw,” Scranton told the Trib. Ford had been vice president for less than a year, replacing Spiro Agnew, who resigned because of bribery and tax evasion charges.
“People forget how bad it was. They believe their time is the most divisive,” Scranton said in 2011.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Allentown, said Scranton’s life was “dedicated to the service of our great commonwealth and our country.”