WILMINGTON, Dell ( Associated Press) – Current and former Delaware politicians, family and friends of Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV remember the late governor, member of the US House of Representatives and presidential candidate for reviving the state’s economy, who were working in the partisan corridor and sharing a joyful soul.
Friday’s memorial service at the Wilmington Theater takes place nearly a year after du Pont’s death in May 2021 At the age of 86 after a long illness. News outlets reported that COVID-19 safety concerns delayed the tribute until now.
“As Pete understood, our political opponents can and should be friends,” conservative columnist George Will, a longtime friend of du Pont, said in his eulogy. “Pete did it right and had fun all the way.”
A member of a wealthy family known for their chemical company holdings, du Pont moved from the business world to law and Republican politics. After one term in the State House and three terms in Congress, du Pont was elected governor in 1976 and began working to restore the state’s financial stability.
Du Pont built successful relationships with lawmakers from both sides to deal with prison overcrowding, corruption and school segregation. He was re-elected in 1980 in a landslide. His second term was marked by landmark legislation he signed that loosened Delaware’s banking laws, making the state attractive to some of the largest credit card companies in the country.
The state’s economy is “built on the decisions of Gov. Du Pont,” current government John Carney, a Democrat, said during the service.
“They set a new standard for how they treated each other in this state,” Carney said. “And it changed our expectations of us.”
Du Pont announced in 1986 what would become a long-term bid for the presidency. He attempted to differentiate himself from better-known candidates by questioning the social programs that rivals feared to address. He withdrew in early 1988 after poor performances in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Du Pont’s four children also shared memories, especially his humour. His son, Ben, recalled asking why his father had started bowling: “He said, ‘I made more friends and got more votes than anything else I’ve done.'”
“He could make anyone laugh and that was just a gift,” his widow, Alice, added in a recording shown on the big screen.
US Sen. Tom Carper and former Gov. Mike Castle also attended Friday’s service, which culminated with a rendition of “God Bless America”. One edition is played before every home game for the Philadelphia Flyers – du Pont’s favorite team. The longtime anthem singer for the Flyers led the song in a pre-recorded video.