George M. Leader, a Former Governor, Dies at 95
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 10, 2013
George M. Leader, the son of a chicken farmer who was elected governor of Pennsylvania before he turned 40, scoring an upset victory in 1954 largely on the strength of something relatively new in American politics, television, died on Thursday in an assisted-living center in Hershey, Pa. He was 95.
Pennsylvania State Department of Commerce, via Associated Press
His death was announced by a spokeswoman for the Country Meadows center, the first in a network of 10 such facilities that Mr. Leader and his wife founded in 1985.
Mr. Leader, a Democratic state senator at the time, had been given little chance of winning the 1954 gubernatorial race against Lt. Gov. Lloyd Wood, a rumpled, cigar-chomping political boss. But he pulled off the upset after running a strong television advertising campaign, one of the earliest in American politics. Two years before, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had been the first to use TV ads extensively in a presidential campaign.
Mr. Leader’s victory was widely attributed to his use of television, allowing him to introduce himself and appeal directly to voters in their living rooms.
He was only 37 when he took office in 1955, making him the second-youngest governor in Pennsylvania history. (Robert E. Pattison was 32 when he was inaugurated in 1883.) Mr. Leader was the first Pennsylvania governor to appoint a black cabinet officer. He served one four-year term, the maximum allowed by law at the time.
One of Mr. Leader’s main accomplishments was cutting the population in Pennsylvania’s mental hospitals to 11,000 from 39,000; he did so by giving more state money to mental health clinics that helped patients adjust to life outside hospitals.
He also signed a law changing Pennsylvania’s school code to require the education of the disabled. Within five years, 250,000 more children swelled the enrollment lists in public schools.
He lost a bid for the United States Senate to the Republican Hugh Scott in 1958 and never ran for office again, devoting himself to his assisted-living businesses and to causes like prison reform.
“When I was governor, we had 7,000 people in prison. Today we have 33,000 in state prisons, and we can’t keep up,” Mr. Leader said in 1996. “We could do the same thing with the prison population that we did with the mental health population.”
Mr. Leader belonged to an old York County family. The village of Leader Heights bears the family’s name.
George Michael Leader was born on Jan. 17, 1918, the third of Guy and Beulah Leader’s seven children. He grew up on his parents’ poultry farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse. He later attended Gettysburg College and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
He served aboard the aircraft carrier Randolph during World War II. When the war ended, he returned to York County and used a G.I. loan to buy a 110-acre farm.
Mr. Leader and his wife, the former Mary Jane Strickler, whom he married in 1939, were both living at Country Meadows when she died in March 2011.