WILKES-BARRE – Mayor Tom Leighton said Friday the community lost a true public servant when his aunt, Mercedes J. Leighton, passed away.
"Mercedes was a dedicated public servant for decades and a pillar of this community," Leighton said. "Her warmth and good humor were unrivaled, and she inspired generations of people to enter public service including myself. She was admired and respected by all and a true pioneer in governmental service. She will be greatly missed by many."
Mercedes Leighton, who had served as Wilkes-Barre City controller for 21 1/2 years, died Friday afternoon, her family announced. She was 90.
Assistant City Attorney William E. Vinsko Jr., Mercedes Leighton's grandson, released this statement on behalf of her family.
"Nan loved this city as much as she loved her family," Vinsko said, "I am proud to now serve this city as my grandmother and grandfather did before me. Wilkes-Barre and the City Controller's Office are better places because of her work. She was my inspiration, both politically and personally. I am a better person because of her and I hope I can inspire my kids the way she did me."
Kathy Kane, the current city controller, said Leighton was "always a wonderful, polite and kind" woman.
"She came from an amazing family, and she leaves behind an amazing family," Kane said. "We all will miss her greatly."
Leighton was a graduate of Coughlin High School and Wyoming Seminary Business School. For several years, she worked as the manager for the Osterhout Library North Branch on George Avenue.
She later worked as a librarian aid for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District at the Hoyt Street School and Kistler Elementary.
According to a release from the mayor's office, on June 8, 1946, she married Carl A. Leighton, Jr., and together they reared three children -- Cal, Joan and Kathy.
In April, 1978, her husband, Carl, who was the city controller, died, and City Council appointed Mrs. Leighton to fulfill his unexpired term.
She decided to run for the seat herself in 1979, and was elected. She won four consecutive terms for a total of 21 1/2 years in office.
Leighton's public service did not end with her position as city controller. During her tenure, she was the vice-chair of the Luzerne County Democratic Party, the chair of the Wilkes-Barre Democratic Club, a member of Gov. Robert P. Casey's finance committee, a member of the Fireman's Pension Board, the Fireman's Relief Pension Board, the Policemen's Relief Pension Board, Non-Uniform Employees Pension Board, the city's Aggregate Board, and was the treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Controller's Association, where she served three terms.
One of her highest recognitions was her appointment by Casey to serve on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
In 1999, Leighton lost the Democratic primary to Bernie Mengeringhausen, who held the position until he retired in 2011. After she lost, Mrs. Leighton said, "When I was appointed, I don't mind telling you, I was frightened. I didn't know how I was going to be received by my male counterparts."
Leighton began her political career at age 56. After two decades of overseeing city finances through four administrations, Leighton said in 1999 that she would "gladly enter a new stage of her life that will be punctuated by volunteerism and charity work."
For obituary, see Page 8A.