State Sen. Michael O'Pake, the longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania Legislature who died in Reading Monday, forged many friendships throughout Pennsylvania, including many in neighboring Schuylkill and Carbon counties.
O'Pake died of complications from heart-bypass surgery at Reading Hospital and Medical Center, where he had remained since the Nov. 22 operation, according to longtime aide Jim Hertzler. He was 70.
A Democrat from Berks County, O'Pake was a popular legislator not only among constituents, but also with his peers serving in public office.
"He was a first-class individual who was committed and dedicated to his many friends, the people he served and his religion," Carbon County Commissioners' Chairman William O'Gurek said of the senator.
O'Pake was a devout Catholic who was widely known among many Allentown Diocese residents.
"Mike was a good friend of mine. He was a sincere gentleman who helped people in many ways, which is probably evidenced by his over four decades in the legislure," O'Gurek said.
O'Pake was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1968, and to the state Senate four years later. He died midway through his 10th consecutive Senate term.
As the first chairman of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, O'Pake helped write the child protective services law that helps child abuse victims and was a leading advocate of the state's pioneering Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health insurance to uninsured children and teens who do not qualify for Medicaid. He also fought for legislation that created the state Department of Aging and separate offices of aging in every county.
Gov. Ed Rendell on Monday ordered that all U.S. and Pennsylvania flags at the state Capitol complex in Harrisburg and at state facilities in Berks County be flown at half-staff in O'Pake's honor until his interment.
Last month, fellow Senate Democrats re-elected O'Pake as minority whip, the No. 2 caucus leadership position.
"Mike was a friend and colleague who could be counted on for kind words and sage advice in the most trying circumstances," said Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. "He worked across the aisle and built bridges trying to find solutions that help all Pennsylvanians."