Gov. George Leader
Gov. George Leader

Below is the obituary for Gov. George Leader, released by Country Meadows Retirement Community on Thursday afternoon:

George Michael Leader, a self-described "seventh generation Pennsylvania Dutch farmer," who was the second-youngest governor of Pennsylvania, died at his home in Hershey on May 9, 2013. He was age 95.

Leader, a one-term Democratic state senator, was elected governor of Pennsylvania in a landslide in 1955 at the age of 36, startling a heavily registered Republican state and surprising the rest of the nation, so much so that Time magazine featured him as its cover story the following week.

Limited by the state constitution to one four-year term, Leader made a busy time of it.

In his newspaper series on Pennsylvania governors, historian Paul B. Beers wrote, "The Leader administration was exciting and controversial -- always politically, sometimes legislatively and often intellectually. It was an administration which could trip over hills but move mountains. In achievements it ranks with the best administrations in Pennsylvania history. Because of Leader, too, the modern Democrats in Pennsylvania came of age. Leader helped make them respectable and responsible in the 1950s.

He was able to turn over his job to a Democratic successor -- and no Democrat had done that in Pennsylvania in 114 years.Though confronted by a recalcitrant Republican Senate during the first two years of his term, and House for his last two years, Leader was able to maneuver many of his programs into fruition.


As one of his biographers, Nelson Geary, wrote, "The Governor, as energetic as a tornado, and spurred by a sense of urgency, was committed to programs which he considered essential for human welfare and social decency."

These programs included transforming the care of persons with mental illness from one of custody to one of curing; requiring school districts to develop special education programs for students with physical and mental challenges; battling unemployment by creating the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA), which remains in existence today; speeding up construction of the Keystone Shortway, now known as Interstate 80, across the northern tier of the state opening it to industrial development; creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which evolved into the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; initiating a nationally acclaimed program to establish a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvania resident; reorganizing state government by establishing an Office of Administration within the Governor's office; and instituting the state's first civil service for its professional employees.

In 1958, Leader was defeated in his bid for the U.S. Senate by Hugh Scott and decided not to stand again for public elective office.

After pursuing other business opportunities for several years, he and his wife, Mary Jane, decided they could better use their experience and interests in caring for the Commonwealth's seniors, a group in whose welfare he showed concern while serving as governor. His administration laid the groundwork for positive changes to better serve seniors by establishing the Commission on Aging, which evolved into the state Department of Aging, and by enacting licensure standards and an inspection program for skilled nursing facilities.

In 1962, Leader and his wife founded a company that provided skilled nursing and rehabilitation that by 1968 developed into a publicly traded corporation known as Leader Healthcare Organization. By 1981, the company was the largest provider of skilled nursing care in Pennsylvania. Leader introduced innovative programs including the first six-day-a-week rehabilitation services for nursing home residents, and in-service training for staff members that earned them college credits. Leader Healthcare merged with CENCO, an Illinois-based health-care provider in 1982, and Leader left the company shortly thereafter.

Never considering retirement a good option, Leader started another company, this one in the emerging field of assisted living. Country Meadows Retirement Communities launched its first assisted living community in Hershey in 1985, developing communities for seniors throughout Pennsylvania and northern Maryland over the next 20 years.

Again, Leader was not ready for a real retirement and decided to keep busy by launching yet another assisted living company, Providence Place. At the time of his death, he served as its chairman, president and CEO.

Leader was always in search of innovative programs that he believed would benefit residents in body, mind and spirit. Leader took great pride in the fact that his children and their families relocated to central Pennsylvania to follow in his footsteps in owning and operating high quality senior living communities; a career he enjoyed for 51 years.

Named for his grandfather, Leader was born on January 17, 1918, to Guy A. and Beulah Boyer Leader, the third of seven children.

His father, Guy A. Leader, Sr., was a successful poultryman known for developing the Leader Leghorn -- an acclaimed strain of egg-laying chickens. Guy Leader also dabbled in local Democratic politics and served as a Pennsylvania state senator from 1944 to 1950. "Politics were table conversation at our house for as long as I can remember," he once recalled.

Leader's formal education began in a rural, one-room schoolhouse and continued at William Penn Senior High School in York, Pa. Following three years at Gettysburg College, Leader transferred to University of Pennsylvania to obtain a bachelor's degree in 1939.

That September he married Mary Jane Strickler of York, whom he had courted after meeting her at a church social. His goal of becoming a teacher was sidetracked, however, when his father's poor health required Leader to help manage the family's farms, which he did for two years. He then returned to the University of Pennsylvania to do graduate work at the Fels Institute of Local and State Government. His master's degree program was cut short when he joined the U.S. Navy. He served three years as an officer in the supply corps, the last year of which was on the aircraft carrier USS Randolph, which acted in the western Pacific as a base for Navy planes in the bombing of Japan. Leader had attained the rank of lieutenant by the time he was discharged.

Following the war, Leader decided to strike out on his own in the poultry business. With a G.I. loan, he bought a small poultry hatchery on 50 acres in York County, and within a few years increased its annual production tenfold from 100,000 baby chicks to one million. At the same time, he displayed the family inclination for politics.

Leader became active with the York County Democratic Committee, serving two years as secretary before becoming county chairman. In 1950, his father decided not to seek re-election to the state Senate, and Leader was nominated in his place. He was elected to a four-year term representing York and Adams Counties. He made his mark early by being one of the few in the Senate to oppose, on principle, the enactment of a Loyalty Oath bill during the McCarthy era.

Though not a popular stand, his sincerity and articulation in support of his position drew the attention of statewide Democratic leaders. In 1952, his party endorsed him as their candidate for state treasurer on the ticket with former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson for president. Dwight Eisenhower was the Republican candidate for president, and although Stevenson had a loyal Pennsylvania following, the odds were that Eisenhower would sweep the state and have long coattails. He did. The Democratic ticket went down to defeat. Leader campaigned hard, though, and got to know his polyglot state and its party leaders, and they got to know him.

Two years later, when better-known Democrats declined to run for governor in the belief that it would not be a Democratic year due to a 900,000 Republican registration edge, Leader pushed for the state committee endorsement and received it.

As Paul B. Beers wrote in his "Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday," "a tough primary (had) excited Leader, and he proceeded to travel 30,000 miles and shake 100,000 hands in one of the truly superb campaigns in Pennsylvania history."

In Pennsylvania's first gubernatorial campaign where television ads loomed large, the youthful, articulate Leader came across as someone who got things done. He won by a landslide280,000 votes the biggest sweep for a Democratic governor since William F. Packer in 1857. Reed M. Smith concludes his State Government in Transition -- Reforms of the Leader Administration 1955-1959: "His administration was one of rapid change, great energy, and accomplishments in such substantive areas as mental health, highways, parks, industrial development, and schools. A number of persons close to state government have said that Leader is the best recent governor Pennsylvania has had."

Leader remained active in public and political affairs to the end, participating in a 2013 initiative by five former Pennsylvania governors in support of merit selection of the Commonwealth's appellate judges. He also was active in community organizations throughout his professional life. In his post gubernatorial years he served as National Crusade Chairman of the American Cancer Society in addition to the boards of Philadelphia Home Loan Bank and numerous colleges, universities and hospitals. In his later years, he focused his attention on prison reform, local charities that supported students in the Harrisburg School District and international organizations serving Africa and, in particular, Ghana.

Leader was pre-deceased by his son Fred in 2003, and by his wife, Mary Jane, in 2011. He is survived by his son Michael Leader and wife Karen; daughter Jane Leader Janeczek and husband Ted; and son David Charles Leader and wife Liesa; and 12 grandchildren: Jennifer J. Leader of Hershey; Alex M. Janeczek of Hershey; George Michael Leader, IV of Hershey; Meredith Janeczek Mills of Lititz; Katelyn E. Leader of Oxford, England; Andrew M. Janeczek of McLean, Va.; Tania S. Leader-Hanmer of Hershey; Ricardo S. Leader of State College; Kristin J. Leader of Hershey; Catia S. Leader of Lisbon, Portugal; Manuel F. Leader of Hershey; Grace E. Leader of Hershey; and two great-grandsons, Kyle and Colin Leader-Hanmer, also of Hershey. He also is survived by Anne Gardner Leader of Hummelstown, widow of his son, Fred.

Leader was a 25-year member of Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey. At this time funeral plans are incomplete.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate contributions in their father's memory to the following charities: Ecumenical Retirement Community, 830 Cherry Drive, Hershey, Pa. 17033 (the not-for-profit assisted living community that he founded in Harrisburg); CRAM (Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry) 509 Division Street, Harrisburg, Pa. 17110 (a program that assists ex-offenders to prepare for employment.); and his church, Derry Presbyterian Church's Mission and Peace Fund, 248 E. Derry Road, Hershey, Pa. 17033.