Former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton dies at 96

| Monday, July 29, 2013, 11:56 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Former Gov. William Scranton Jr., who left his mark on state government with sweeping education reform that remains in place, died Sunday at 96.

A family spokesman said Scranton, governor from 1963-67, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at a retirement community in Montecito, Calif. He kept a home in Waverly, just outside the city of Scranton.

His tenure, said his son Bill Scranton, a former lieutenant governor, was a time of change and progress for Pennsylvania. A popular one-term congressman when elected, Scranton's success was derived partly from his interactions with people of all walks of life, his son said.

“He just liked people,” the younger Scranton said. “He honored them and cared about them. He just had a touch. People liked him.”

In Congress, Scranton became known as a “Kennedy Republican” who supported some of 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 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,” Madonna said.

A World War II transport pilot for the Army Air Forces, Scranton chaired the commission that investigated the 1970 shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. In 1976, he became United Nations ambassador.

“Gov. Scranton was a world-class leader in government. He will be remembered as a man of humility, honesty, dignity and integrity,” Gov. Tom Corbett said. Former Gov. Tom Ridge thought of Scranton as “a Renaissance man ... inquisitive and passionate about education and the arts.”

When friend Gerald Ford was thrust into the presidency in August 1974, after Richard Nixon's resignation at the height of the Watergate scandal, Scranton became a member of his transition team. He recalled that time in an interview with the Tribune-Review in 2011, upon the death of former first lady Betty Ford.

“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.

As governor, Scranton 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 later governors, 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.”

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.”

In 1962, Scranton defeated Democrat Richardson Dilworth, who touted credentials as a reformer and Philadelphia mayor, to become Pennsylvania's 38th governor. He served one term, the maximum at the time.

“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.”

Brad Bumsted and Salena Zito are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Bumsted at 717-787-1405 or Reach Zito at The Associated Press contributed.

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