Rep. Hess Remembered As Friend, Advocate
Commonwealth flags remained at half-staff through Tuesday as residents of the 78th Legislative District paused to remember state Rep. Dick Hess as not only a veteran lawmaker but, more importantly, a friend and advocate.
Many residents were in shock and disbelief as word trickled throughout the county Friday afternoon of Hess’s unexpected passing. Hess, 74, had been hospitalized at UPMC Shadyside Hospital and suffered from complications linked to leg surgery conducted several weeks prior. He died around 10 a.m., leaving behind his family, which included his biggest supporter and wife of 55 years, Shirley; son, Jeff; and the apples of his eye, grandchildren Erika, Zachary and Haden.
Hess also leaves behind an extended family of sorts, the residents of the 78th Legislative District that encompasses all of Fulton County as well as portions of neighboring Bedford and Huntingdon counties. Having served this county as an elected-servant for 14 terms in the state House of Representatives, Hess had an close connection with many residents as well as civic organizations.
Always a big supporter of the annual Fulton County Fair, young exhibitors and the agricultural industry as a whole, fellow fair advocates Clem and Jana Malot were deeply saddened upon hearing the news of Hess’s death September 6. Clem stated Rep. Hess always remained “steadfast in his support of the Fulton County Fair and all that the fair represents to the youth and to the agricultural roots of our community.”
“Rep. Hess has left his mark many times on the heritage of the fair and will be long remembered for his strong support of the Youth Livestock Program, for his assistance in the restoration of the historic horse barn and for countless other selfless contributions to all of the people of Fulton County,” said Clem.
Having established a close relationship with Hess during his countless years as county Republican Committee chairman, Mikeal Fix of Hustontown, told the “News,” “Dick was someone you could carry on a conversation with from politics to how to sharpen a chain saw. We lost a good friend, and we were most fortunate to have had him as our state representative. He will certainly be missed.”
Fellow state-elected official, who also represents the constituents of Fulton County but in the Senate, John H. Eichelberger Jr. pointed out his relationship with Hess spanned a time frame of approximately 20 years. Among that time were seven years in the state General Assembly.
“We have worked well together and have spent a lot of time with one another,” reflected Sen. Eichelberger, who added their last day together was in August when they were in McConnellsburg to meet with the Fulton County commissioners regarding the future of Meadow Grounds Lake.
“We left there for a Bedford County Chamber legislative luncheon where we were part of the program. I had many similar days with Dick and an occasional dinner together in Harrisburg,” Eichelberger said. “I will miss him personally and will have a more difficult time addressing the needs of the people of Fulton, Bedford and Huntingdon counties without his help.”
According to legislative aide Larry Garlock, the Bedford County office as well as Hess’s Lincoln Way East, McConnellsburg, office operated by longtime aide Sue Yeager will reopen Wednesday and will remain open for business until officials hear otherwise.
Details are sketchy at this time, but Pennsylvania Election Code dictates the House Speaker, in this case Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, must file a “writ of election” within 10 days of Hess’s passing. The document will order a special vote be held in at least 60 days. As the November municipal election falls exactly 60 days from the day Hess died, a special vote will not be held that particular day. It is possible the vote will be held later this year or even in early 2014.
Hess has had little opposition over the years in his campaigns for re-election, especially from Democratic contenders. The closest margin of victory for Hess happened to be in his very first election when he pulled off a victory over then Bedford County Commissioner Gary Ebersole.
No candidates have publicly announced their interest to date in filling the vacant seat. However, the individual elected will serve less than one year before the voters are asked to cast their vote in the November 2014 election. During that particular election, the new redistricting map will take effect. The new boundaries for the 78th District will eliminate several Bedford County municipalities, all of Huntingdon County’s area while keeping all of Fulton County and gaining several municipalities in neighboring Franklin County.