Thornburgh remembered locally
Former Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott remembers Gov. Dick Thornburgh for his sincerity and ability to listen to others.
Thornburgh died Dec. 31 at the age of 88. In addition to serving two terms as Pennsylvania, he was U.S. Attorney General during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Elliott had the opportunity to meet with the Thornburgh several times; first in 1978 when he was working with the late Terry Punt’s state House of Representatives campaign and and later as a Franklin County County Commissioner in the 1980s.
Thornburgh was running for governor at the same time and was offering support, Elliott remembers.
“Neither Terry or I knew him at the time, but we appreciated his support,” Elliott said. “He was always interested in this area as he attended Mercersburg Academy.”
Both Thornburgh and Punt would win their respective races. Punt represented Mercersburg in the Pennsylvania House from 1979 to 1988, when he campaigned for and won the 33rd District’s Senate seat. Punt served in that position for two decades until his death in 2008.
Connection to Franklin County
Elliott later renewed that acquaintance with Thornburg when he was a Franklin County County Commissioner.
“The most striking thing I recall about him was his sincerity,” Elliott said. “‘When he talked with you he made great eye to eye contact. He listened.”
While Thornburgh was a career politician who spent many years in public service, his attempts to gain a seat in Congress on two occasions failed. In 1966 he lost his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives and in 1991 he lost a bid to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Sen. John Heinz was killed in a plane crash.
But his success in other areas overshadowed those losses, including his stint as U.S. Attorney General. It was that period that gave him a chance to advocate for people with disabilities. He was instrumental in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 passed.
Thornburgh had a connection to Franklin County through his years as a student at Mercersburg Academy, a private independent college preparatory boarding school in Mercersburg.
It was his time there, Elliott said, that fostered his interest in the region and prompted him to offer his support to Punt’s own campaign.
“He put you at ease, there was a calmness about him,” Elliott remembers. “He was a good person.”