Emotional colleagues, friends say farewell to late representative

SAXTON – Guests stood along walls, and flower arrangements spilled onto windowsills at Trinity United Church of Christ, where more than 200 people – including a collection of state officials – gathered Tuesday for veteran state Rep. Dick Hess’ funeral.

In eulogies and hushed conversations at the Saxton church, colleagues recalled Hess’ 26 years representing Bedford and neighboring counties in the state House, where he was among the highest-ranking and most senior members.

“I was privileged to serve with Dick for 26 years – he in the House and I in the Senate,” said an emotional Robert Jubelirer, the former state senator and lieutenant governor from Altoona. “To work in the trenches and come from where we came. … It was an honor for both of us.”

Hess died Friday at a Pittsburgh hospital from complications following surgery. He was 74.

Having recently taken the helm of the House Transportation Committee, Hess was set to reopen discussion of a key funding bill less than three weeks from the day he died.

“I know well the difficulties he had ahead of him. But he looked forward to it,” Jubelirer said.

Speaker of the House Samuel H. Smith, R-Punxsutawney, recalled taking office alongside Hess in the legislative Class of 1986. In his eulogy, Smith described their early days in the House in terms that called to mind schoolyard friends.

“The four of us, we kind of hung out together as freshmen. It was old-school then: Freshmen kind of kept their heads down, asked questions quietly,” Smith said. “Dick was always sort of the quiet one in the crowd. And that’s how he did his job in the Legislature.”

Colleagues rattled off the names of projects and businesses Hess helped bring to his district, including an Allegany College of Maryland branch in Everett.

Hess won his seat after working for 15 years as Bedford County clerk of courts, chief clerk and prothonotary. As a representative, he sat on key committees and served on the panel that guides Republican House policy.

A member of close to 20 clubs, boards and sportsmen’s associations, Hess was an avid hunter who bristled when his job and his hobby conflicted at the opening of hunting seasons, Smith recalled.

“If session was running into those days, Dick would be tugging on someone: ‘What the heck are we doing in session the first day of bear season? I’m not gonna be there,” Smith said in a gruff voice while the crowd laughed. “He was a common man with an exceptional job.”

Hess’ son, Jeffrey, said he attended each hunting-season opening day with his father for the past 41 years.

“He’s going to leave a big hole. And by the sound of things, he’s going to leave a big hole in other people’s lives as well,” Jeffrey Hess told the mourners.

Among the crowd were campaign leaders, county commissioners and state officials including Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and representatives from surrounding districts. Several mourners stood around pews in the packed church.

“I know you grieve today, too,” Jubelirer told colleagues in the General Assembly. “Today I weep with all of you. I’ve lost a friend. I’ve lost a former colleague. I’ve lost someone very special.”