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A Man of the People

Story ID:7568
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Reading Pennsylvania usa
Year:2010
Person:Michael O'Pake
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I had heard about this self-effacing and hard-working State Senator before, so
when I belatedly read in a Slovak Insurance newspaper that Michael A. O'Pake,
senior Pennsylvania legislator representing Reading and most of Berks County had
died on December 27, 2010, I was deeply saddened and wanted to to read all that I
could about him.

He was 70 years old when he passed away and had worked many, many years for
the people of his district, and these were years of concern and accomplishment for
them. I could not help thinking that he should have held higher political office because
he certainly was not the type of legislator we so often see today - self-serving and with
their hands in the pockets of big donors - doing their will and not the will of the people
who elected them.

Myself, a product of a Catholic education as he, I could never measure up to his credentials.
He graduated valedictorian from his high school in 1957 and then summa cum laude from
St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia in 1961. He went on to earn his Juris Doctorate
from the University of the Pennsylvania School of Law in 1974 where he received the
Keedy Cup for best appellate advocacy.

Clearly he was a brilliant student, but the one award that I think clearly defined his life
was when he received the prestigious Shield of Loyola. Upon receiving it, he said: "I
hope tonight and tomorrow, when we all look back we can answer this question in the
affirmative: "Has my life made a difference for good in the lives of others?"

The internet provides a very clear answer to his question re himself. I found a site where
people that he had contact with during his public service gave their impression of this
very special man.

On Jan.2, 2011 the Reading Eagle published an article which read: "People's politician
Michael A. O'Pake Remembered." Berks County residents share their fond, appreciative
memories of Sen. Michael A. O'Pake.

There were 14 pages of remembrances, so I'll do my best to pick at least some of them
to think about:

1. Claire M. Schittler: "He has always worked for the people and his staff is the greatest.
I can't imagine anyone being able to fill his shoes."

2. Tim Garman: When I was a junior at Gov Mifflin High School, I spent the day with
Sen. O'Pake and his staff in Harrisburg....I remember the senator having a busier day
than he expected, but he still found time to spend with me."

3. John T. Connelly: " Mike O'Pake was, in my view the consummate politician. He viewed
politics as both a profession and a calling....In an age in which politicians are often, and
with some justification, viewed with scorn, Mike was an example as to how politicians
should comport themselves. He was the antithesis of what has unfortunately become the
current model for many of our current political leaders. If a highly skilled biographer were
to write about the life and times of Michael O'Pake, the resulting book would become a
primer for anyone considering entering politics at the federal, state, or local level. The
result would serve us all with great benefit if potential candidates would be required to
read his biography and understand what drove him to serve for the sake of the populace-
not for himself.

(Totally, totally do I agree with your well- said sentiments. Any writers out there who would
want to do this? I think you would be performing a much-needed service.)

4. James Price: "Over the years at Central Catholic basketball games, we played our own
version of 'Where's Waldo?' That being 'Where's Mike O?' Who could be the first to spot
him in the crowd? Even though I usually lost, he was always in there somewhere."

5. Elaine W. Laws: "Michael O'Pake was the people's senator, always willing to help
others. His presence was felt at all the parades, the 100th birthday celebrations of people
at various nursing facilites, the go-to person when you needed help and didn't know where
to turn. Always visible with the same warm smile."

6. Charlene V Flannery: " On Nov.22, 2010, my son, Staff Sgt. Sean Flannery, was
killed in action in Afghanistan - the same day Sen. OPake had his cardiac surgery. Last
week I received a Pennsylvania State Senate Memorial Proclamation honoring my son
for his service and sacrifice. This document was sponsored by Senators Michael O'Pake
and Mike Formier. In spite of his illness, he remembered my son. This truly speaks of
the character of this remarkable man and his devotion to those he served. Thank you,
Senator. May you rest in peace."

7. Joan E. Herbst: "Losing Mike O'Pake is like losing a member of your family. He was
the most honest politician I ever heard of. He never forgot his roots and helped so many
people. He will be irreplaceable. Even though I'm a registered Republican, he was the best
of the best. I met him many times ......and it surely helped he was one handsome guy - an
old lady of 80 will surely miss him."

( So will this 81 year -old lady who though never having had the pleasure of meeting him,
found his story so very beautiful and inspiring.)

8. Mark A. Robertson: "I am from Reading. My remembrance of Sen. Mike O'pake was
when I returned from the first gulf War in 1990 he sent me a proclamation and a thank-you
letter for my wartime service. ....In the years since my return to the U.S. I have personally
witnessed the compassion, spirit, and drive of the senator during his many visits and
acknowedgments during a variety of social events he attended. Senator O'Pake listened
to the people that elected him, and truly acted in their best interest. Heaven's ranks are
now blessed with a true diplomat and martyr for humanity. Rest in peace."

(I wholeheartedly agree with this and especially the last statement re heaven's ranks. He
surely deserves to be there.)

9. Dan Sauder: "I was 11 years old and at a Reading Phillies game at Municipal stadium.
Mike Schmidt was my boyhood hero and the R-Phils were retiring his number. I was trying
to get his autograph, but unbeknownst to me, Schmidt had already left the building. I was
standing there crying when the senator approached to ask me what was wrong. A few
weeks late the senator arrived at my home with a Schmidt-autographed baseball and
invited my brother and me to Harrisburg to be Senate pages for a day. It was an amazing
experience and one I will never forget."

10. U.S. Rep. Tim Holden: "Mike O'Pake was the personification of a public servant. His
dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to the people of his district over his 42-year career
give great reason to celebrate his life. I remember early in my career hearing people say
that Mike O'Pake must have an identical twin, because it is almost impossible for anyone to
attend as many meetings, functions and celebrations as he does, but as we all know, there
was only one Mike O'Pake. He raised the bar on public service, taking his obligation to all-
new heights."

Imagine, I got only as far as P. 4 of 14 pages in picking out 10 testimonials re the Senator, but
I think they were all wonderful, varied, and pointed to a life well- lived in the service of the
people of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Children, seniors, workers, grieving mothers who lost
boys in the war and others-all were of concern to the senator. You, the people of this district
were lucky indeed to have known and been served by such a caring man. And, of course, I
don't need to tell you that. Your many, many testimonials do that so well- even though I have
only mentioned a few.

As I compiled this post about the life of one extroardinary man, there were tears of joy
and tears of sadness in my eyes. I am especially proud that Mike's maternal grandparents
came from eastern Slovakia as did my parents. Slovakia often gets a bad rap. Yes, our
country did not have the luxury of being economically developed as I believe did the Czech
Republic under Austria's domination. Our land remained basically agrarian during the
Hungarian occupation. Educational opportunities were sparse for many Slovaks while I
believe this was not the case for the Czechs. However, I was very happy when finally in
1993 -with the Velvet Divorce, Slovakia became an independent Republic. May your people
thrive and be prosperous is my fervent prayer. I think Senator Michael O'Pake would wish
the same for you if he were alive today. I believe his mother Anna and brother Patrick who
survive him would also agree.