A longtime state representative whose district included much of Bedford County, and until recently part of Somerset County, died Friday at a Pittsburgh hospital.
Dick Hess, 74, of Bedford, died at UPMC Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh following complications after recent leg surgery.
A Republican who represented the 78th district for 28 years, Hess was chairman of the House Transportation Committee and served on the House Rules Committee and Republican Policy Committee.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Shirley, a son and his wife and three grandchildren.
He represented much of Bedford County, all of Fulton County and a small portion of Huntingdon County.
Hess’s condition had been the subject of prayer at his church Sunday, a number of Bedford County residents said. It came up again at the Tuesday meeting of the Bedford County commissioners.
The Tribune-Democrat reported Wednesday that he had suffered a stroke, but family members and office staff remained tight-lipped about his condition.
His passing will be a loss to the communities he represented and in particular to his family and friends, said Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, who was a longtime friend of the Saxton native.
“It’s devastating news. We’ve lost a true public servant,” said Higgins, former vice chairman of the Bedford County Republican Committee. “I mourn his loss. He was a true friend.”
Higgins said he and his family were close friends with Hess and his wife and will remember Hess as someone he could call with a problem or for advice day or night.
In a statement released by state House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, the House leader described Hess as a devoted family man who will be missed by many more than those in the state House.
“Dick Hess and I came together as freshmen in 1987, and he was always a good friend, colleague and ally on many issues,” Smith said.
State Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, who also represents Bedford County, said he knew and worked with Hess long before he was elected to the Senate seven years ago.
“Dick and I worked together to represent the interests of the citizens of Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties,” Eichelberger said in a statement. “He will be remembered for many contributions, but most importantly for his friendly smile, open handshake and stories about his grandchildren.”
About 15 months remain in Hess’s current term, which ends in 2014.
Higgins said Hess had a fundraiser last month and had every intention of seeking re-election to what would be a 15th term in the House.
Discussion on filling the vacancy created by Hess’s death was floating around Harrisburg on Friday, with a decision regarding a special election likely to be addressed by the House leadership.
Hess was a local public servant for a number of years prior to his election to the House in 1986.
Hess served for 15 years as Bedford County prothonotary and clerk of courts.
While changes will be made with the upcoming reapportionment, along with Fulton County, the 78th district covers the Bedford County boroughs of Bedford, Coaldale, Everett, Hopewell, New Paris, Pleasantville, Rainsburg, Saxton, Schellsburg, St. Clairsville and Woodbury, and the townships of Bedford, Bloomfield, Broad Top, Colerain, East Providence, East St. Clair, Hopewell, Kimmel, King, Liberty, Lincoln, Mann, Monroe, Napier, Pavia, Snake Spring, South Woodbury, Southampton, West Providence, West St. Clair and Woodbury.
The district also covers five municipalities in Huntingdon County.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Friday afternoon.
Kathy Mellott covers Bedford County for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.