PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburghers might have a hard time actually putting their finger on exactly how former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter may have had an impact on their lives.
But Pittsburgh’s Elsie Hillman, who knew Specter as both a senator and a friend, says all we need to do is look around because his fingerprints are on just about everything.
“I think he would want to be remembered as someone who was straightforward,” says Hillman.
Hillman, the grand dame of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, was friends with the late senator for more than 40 years.
“His legacy should be what he did for Pennsylvania and what he did for Western Pennsylvania,” she said.
The Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside bears her family name and she credits Specter for helping to provide the funding to making the world-class facility possible.
“We wouldn’t have the health institutions that we have today in Western Pennsylvania if it weren’t for Arlen Specter,” she said.
Whether it was going to Washington for money for projects across the state or campaigning or the battle over how many bullets were actually fired the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Sen. Specter had a reputation as being a fighter.
But even his adversaries viewed him as a fair fighter, one they would eventually befriend even while disagreeing.
“Arlen could be tough. They called him Snarlin’ Arlen. He was no pushover,” former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht added. “He was the tough district attorney, and I think that’s why he became an effective senator.”
Sen. Specter left the Senate after 30 years in office. He switched parties – from Republican to Democratic – and then lost. But friends say he never lost his spirit or his love for public service.
“He was committed. He loved the United States,” said Hillman. “He was committed to it, and his integrity is the thing he would want everybody to remember.”