SCRANTON —William Scranton III said his father enjoyed Broadway musicals — sometimes to the point of embarrassment for his wife and four children.
“He couldn’t just sit and listen,” Scranton said during his eulogy of his late father, William Warren Scranton. “He would often laugh louder and applaud longer than everyone else and even let go a ‘Woo hoo’ during performances.”
When the family went to see “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, Scranton sang along to every number.
“At the end of the show, the entire cast walked over to the side of the stage where we all were sitting and they told my father they appreciated his assistance.”
The large crowd, gathered inside Covenant Presbyterian Church on Madison Avenue in the city that bears his family’s name, laughed at the story. And there were more funny stories told by a son about his father in a way few really knew.
There was the story of how Scranton, while training pilots in Reno, Nev., nearly fell out of an airplane and how, on a hot July day in the 1950s, the man who would go on to become congressman, governor and ambassador, stopped to fill his gas tank and went to use the restroom forgetting he wasn’t wearing any pants.
With Gov. Tom Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, and former governors Ed Rendell, Tom Ridge, Richard Schweiker and Dick Thornburgh listening, Scranton — a former lieutenant governor — painted a mosaic of his father through stories of humor, humility and service.
Scranton died last month in California, where he was residing with his wife of 71 years, Mary. Scranton served as governor of Pennsylvania, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and he ran for the Republican Party nomination for president in 1964, losing to Barry Goldwater.
Susan Belin, a longtime friend and neighbor of Scranton, remembered him as a “friend, mentor and inspiration.” She said he was a man of the world, a man of the people and a man of Scranton.
“He was an astute businessman and a statesman,” Belin said. “He always focused through the lens of responsibility.”
Belin described Scranton as a man of humility and humanity who had a sense of humor and who was always committed to making things right. She recalled watching Scranton dancing the Charleston and the polka and waltzing at his gubernatorial ball.
Belin and Monsignor Joseph Quinn preceded the son of the former governor, speaking at the pulpit of the church the Scranton family helped build and furnish.
“We all mourn his death,” Quinn said. “It is hard for us to imagine how he accomplished so much in just one lifetime, even though his lasted nearly one century.”
The governor’s son said his father liked to tell stories, that he enjoyed an audience.
“And those stories were all so worth hearing,” Scranton said. “He was an extraordinary man born into an extraordinary family in a city that bore his family’s name. This is the end of an era.”
Scranton said that when his father nearly fell out of that airplane, he had decided to perform a roll, but had forgotten his canopy was open.
“If it weren’t for his long legs and his elbows, this service might have been held 71 years ago.”
Scranton described his father as a voracious reader with “far too many bookshelves.” He said his Ivy League education at Yale University prepared him well. He said he loved to exercise, playing tennis until he was 90.
Scranton said his father did have an ego, but he “never gave it the keys to the car.” He said his father’s ego never drove him.
Praise from office holders
Corbett said Wednesday’s service remembered a true public servant and a great man.
“Gov. Scranton left our state better then he found it,” Corbett said. “His common-sense policies helped bring unemployment to new lows and opened up Pennsylvania to the world through international trade. When he was the U.N. ambassador, the world soon found out what we here in Pennsylvania always knew: Bill Scranton was a good and decent man committed to preserving the rights and dignity of all humanity.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said the service captured the essence of Scranton.
“He was a good man — a great man,” Casey said.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said when anyone met Scranton, he was always interested in what you had to say.
“He always listened,” she said. “He set a great example for all of us.”
Ridge said Bill Scranton’s eulogy was a “remarkable tribute” to his father. Dan Meuser, state secretary of revenue, called Scranton “one of the most important figures in Pennsylvania history.”
A life filled with love
Concluding his eulogy, Scranton talked about his parents. He talked about his father’s devotion to his mother, who has been suffering from dementia for years.
When Scranton and his father were returning to California in June, the two talked about life. They talked about children and grandchildren, all the while knowing that he had just visited his hometown for the final time.
“My dad lived in a single room and mom lived in the room next door,” he said. “He told me he sleeps late, exercises, takes a shower, has lunch and then sits with my mom all afternoon into the evening. He said sometimes they would talk, but most times they just sat there in silence.
“My dad never liked to sit still, but he told me he’d never been happier.”
Scranton said his father’s other “love” was the people of the 10th Congressional District he met while campaigning door-to-door in 1960 when he ran for Congress.
“People delighted him and he heard their stories of their struggles and successes,” Scranton said. “This experience humbled him, and he carried those lessons with him the rest of his life. He sincerely cared about people and he always wanted to make things better for them.”
Scranton said his father was as much a part of Northeastern Pennsylvania as “anthracite coal, Old Forge pizza and Parodi cigars.” He said the people made him stronger.
“He loved his wife and family,” Scranton said. “He loved his country and he loved his home — Scranton. He was a true gentleman who always made everyone feel like a million bucks.”