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Corbett, more at memorial for late Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton

Published On: Aug 14 2013 01:24:19 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 14 2013 01:32:41 PM CDT

In this July 5, 1964, file photo, then-Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton Jr. speaks to hometown well-wishers at the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Airport in Scranton, Pa. Scranton, former Pennsylvania governor, presidential candidate and ambassador to the United Nations, died Sunday, July 28, 2013. He was 96.

SCRANTON, Pa. -

Pennsylvania's political elite turned out Wednesday to pay respects to William Warren Scranton, a former Pennsylvania governor, presidential candidate and one of the last of a vanishing breed of moderate Northeastern Republicans.

Scranton, who died last month at age 96, was remembered as a selfless public servant who focused his considerable energy and ambition on improving the lives of others. He served a single term as governor before becoming the GOP's elder statesman in Pennsylvania and a trusted adviser to presidents and aspiring politicians alike.

Gov. Tom Corbett and all four living former Pennsylvania governors were among the mourners gathered in the city named after Scranton's ancestors. Corbett called it a day to celebrate his public service and "a life that gave a lot to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the United States."

Mourners filled the pews of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which the Scranton family fortune helped to build more than a century ago. There, they listened to eulogies that touched variously on Scranton's political career, his love of Broadway musicals, his civic mindedness and his restless intellect.

"His acumen, ambition and accomplishment were uniquely balanced by his humility, his humanity and his wonderful sense of humor," recalled family friend Susan Belin.

Scranton was elected as Pennsylvania's 38th governor in 1962. A popular chief executive skilled in public relations, he took advantage of a strong economy to reform the Pennsylvania Civil Service, double spending on education and increase the sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. He also oversaw the creation of the state's community-college system and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, now a national provider of student financial aid services. State spending increased by 38 percent during his administration.

He served a single term, the limit at the time for governors. Scranton also served a term in Congress and ran unsuccessfully for the 1964 GOP presidential nomination as a moderate alternative to conservative Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Scranton left electoral politics at a relatively young age but kept a hand in public service. He chaired the presidential panel that investigated deadly campus protests at Kent State University and Jackson State College in 1970; served as United Nations ambassador under President Gerald Ford; and advised four presidents.

He remained humble despite his accomplishments and position of wealth, power and privilege, said his son, former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton.

His father had an ego like anyone else, but "he never gave his ego the keys to the car," Scranton told mourners. "It may at times been the engine or the fuel, but he never let it drive him. He always had to have a reason beyond himself for doing what he did."

Scranton "really laid down a marker for all of us who aspired to public service," said former GOP Gov. Richard Thornburgh, who recalled having lunch with Scranton early in his first campaign for governor.

"He gave me advice that served me all the time I was in public life: mainly just to play it straight down the middle, guard and preserve your reputation," Thornburgh said outside the church.