A Life Lived Among Friends

Patrick Stapleton

When he presented the President’s Medal of Distinction to Pennsylvania Senator Patrick Stapleton ‘49 in the spring of 2000, IUP President Lawrence K. Pettit noted that “few figures in the history of the university can equal the impact of Pat Stapleton. For more than a quarter-century he has served as an IUP trustee and has been the trustees’ president for nearly that long. In 1982, his dedication to the institution was recognized in the naming of the Patrick J. Stapleton, Jr., Library.

“Long recognized as an effective advocate of higher education, Pat has served on the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education since 1988. His influence in Harrisburg, his skill in negotiation, his quiet and dedicated leadership, and his genuine love for this university have been of pivotal importance to the story that has been written here. Thank you, Pat, for all that you have meant to IUP.”

Less than a year later, the senator died after a long illness. The eulogy delivered by his son, Patrick J. Stapleton III, at his funeral in Indiana’s St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church is reprinted below.

Monsignors Charnoki and Mignot, fellow members of my father’s beloved Senate, all distinguished public officials, friends, and family.

As difficult as it is to say goodbye to my father, my best friend, I am honored to stand before you to celebrate the life of a man who truly served his God in the highest fashion, a man who loved and cared for his family without equivocation, a man who fought tirelessly to better the lives of his fellow citizens. To you, his family and friends, I thank you for your support and love through the times of accomplishment, and more recently, during his difficult battle for life. My family will be forever grateful.

You see, Senator Pat Stapleton cherished every single moment of life. He saw a world brimming with promise and hope and was determined to make the rest of us see it, too.

Sen. Patrick Stapleton with his great-nephews and -nieces

Stapleton had a way with people in general but especially with children. He listened and talked to them with the same deference he showed their elders. In June 1999 he was visited in his office by his great-nephews and -nieces, offspring of Walter (M'87) and Becky Stossel Stapleton '84 and James and Claudia Staples Stapleton '90.

Not surprisingly, he chose (with a little help from the voters) a life of public service to help fulfill his avocation to help others. He came upon this naturally, as his father had spent his life tending to those in need. Nothing made my father prouder than to have someone stop him on the street and say, “You probably don’t know this, but your father fed our family during the Depression and never asked for a cent in return.” Thankfully, this legacy lives on, for not a week goes by that someone does not remind me of the ways that my father bettered his or her life.

My father had a remarkable capacity to help others. There was no problem that couldn’t be fixed, no wrong that couldn’t be righted, and no sinner who couldn’t be saved. He faced the most desperate situations with faith and hope. He insisted on giving a voice to the silenced, deference to the disenfranchised, and hope to those in despair.

Because of his willingness to help, people flocked to him with their problems. Despite the fact that many of these problems were more appropriate for a clergyman, a doctor, a lawyer, or a spouse, my father always seemed to find a way to deliver.

He was most proud of his service in the Senate of Pennsylvania. He was humbled by the fact that his constituents returned him to Harrisburg for thirty years and was determined not to let them down—and let there be no mistake—he didn’t. He led the fight for improved higher education, to save the family farm, and to ensure that every child in this commonwealth can see a doctor. At the same time, he brought billions of dollars home for highways, infrastructure improvements, and economic development. Another measure of Pat Stapleton’s success is the lifelong friendships he enjoyed with his colleagues. He shall be remembered by us all, not simply as Pat Stapleton, but rather, as Senator Pat Stapleton.

My father loved the university that allowed him to come home after serving his country in World War II and become the first person in his family to graduate from college. His commitment to and love for IUP are legendary. For nearly thirty years his wit and wisdom as president of the Council of Trustees have helped chart an unprecedented course of excellence and achievement for the university.

Not only did the university provide my father an education, it gave him his greatest gift—my mother. They met as students and together built a life of public service and accomplishment. The teacher and the Senator—a son could not be prouder.

True to our Irish roots, my father loved to laugh, and even more so, loved to make others laugh. It will be impossible to forget the time he donned a blond wig and served as Miss Pennsylvania’s “dummy” during her ventriloquist performance, or his insistence on riding a mule through Ford City every year, or the constant banter of the yearly ski trip with the senators. Humor inspired him; the smiles and laughter of others sustained him.

So many wonderful memories. These are part of the treasures he has left us. His wish for us would be to cherish the memories and embrace the promise of tomorrow. His faith in God and the promise of eternal happiness have earned him the ultimate promise of tomorrow and he will forever shape our lives.

To be sure, we will awaken tomorrow and be lonely without him. My mother, Maddie, will yearn for her beloved partner with whom all was shared. Brother, sister, nieces, and nephews, we will all miss our family leader. I will be less sure without the counsel of my best friend, the finest and most honorable man I will ever know. But because we have learned from his example we will be strong—we will embrace life and its goodness.

In a few short weeks his grandchild will be born to Kelly and me. Something tells me Dad already knows her.