In Praise Of Dick Hess
To The Editor;
The many tributes to Dick Hess’s dedication to public service are well deserved and the aging network, both locally and statewide, will miss his devoted advocacy and commitment to elder justice. Through his longtime service, Dick developed a close and mutually respectful relationship with his colleagues in Harrisburg and this opened many “doors” for the Area Agency on Aging. In relation to this I wonder how many times the words “call Dick Hess” have been spoken over the past almost 27 years when people and organizations in the 78th District encountered a problem or had a need that it appeared that legislative involvement would provide an answer or solution.
In my trips to the Capitol, there is always the obligatory introductory question of “who are you and where are you from” and in every instance after answering Huntingdon, Bedford and Fulton counties, representatives or staff in a positive way would say “Oh, then you know Dick Hess,” and they invariably would mention his allegiance to his beloved district and constituents. He was also recognized and respected for his composure and friendly, easygoing manner. Rep. Tim Hennessey, chairman of the House Aging and Older Adult Service Committee, who attended Dick’s funeral, and an attorney from Chester County, mentioned to me a year or so ago about going by Dick’s office in late evening and, noticing the light was on, going in and asking for advice. According to Rep. Hennessey, the advice from Dick always focused on doing what was best for the people of Pennsylvania.
Over the years I had regular contact with Dick about a variety of issues affecting older persons, the budget and the work and programming of Area Agency on Aging. He was very gracious and generous with his time and there was a connection from us both being from Saxton. Occasionally Dick would contact me about a consitituent matter or a legislative issue, and a good and uplifting memory follows a call that he placed to me during the debate on legalizing casino gambling in Pennsylvania. Dick wanted me to know that he opposed casino gambling for two reasons: the first being that it did not match what he believed to be the values and principles of the citizens of the 78th District; and second that it would hurt the Pennsylvania Lottery which, in turn, would jeopardize the life-sustaining programs and services for older persons that it supports.
Dick asked me to set up a series of “listening sessions” to discuss a variety of issues, particularly casino gambling, and suggested that we start at the Warfordsburg Senior Center in Fulton County. I pointed out that the Warfordsburg Senior Center is a well-managed, active center with great leadership and a perfect example of what a senior center should be. I guess the thought was that this rural setting among rock-solid people would be reflective of the values of the rest of the district and maybe even a little more conservative. We were greeted by about 60 senior citizens, and Dick began by talking about issues like taxation and opposition to Sunday hunting, to build consensus, and then moved to casino gambling. In response to legalizing casinos, the president of the senior group at the time, in a diplomatic but forceful manner, and much to Dick’s surprise, gave him a stern lecture on the supportive economics of gambling and that senior citizens should not be deprived of the right to gamble in Pennsylvania. The president of the group continued by making it sound almost cruel to expect senior citizens to board buses and travel out-of-state and further that the billions spent on lottery tickets should be a pretty good indication that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians do not find gambling immoral or offensive. The senior group president, in support of casino gambling, got a good round of applause and then the former president of the group delivered a similar message and there was another round of applause.
In keeping with his character of composure, Dick’s mood did not change, but he did look a little perplexed. A few weeks later I heard that he shared this story on the floor of the House and with good-natured humor of being “taken to school” at the Warfordsburg Senior Center on the “virtues” rather than the “evils” of gambling. On our return trip to Bedford he talked of the value of listening and the importance of knowing what is on the mind of the people that he served.
In one of our last discussions he candidly shared that the art of compromise and negotiation were a fading part of the legislative process, and in many ways this was reflective of our culture and he was concerned. The complimentary comment at the funeral that Dick Hess was “old school” was much in reference to his integrity and the principle of doing what is right and just. As a legacy, Dick would want all of us to embrace these principles and use each day to enrich and enhance the lives of others.
Agency on Aging