The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 9, 2010

‘He was a giant’: Community reacts to ‘incredible loss’

While U.S. Rep. John Murtha made his living as a skilled politician, it was his grit, his work ethic and his heart that most locals wanted to talk about Monday.

“He was like a father to the community. He tried to raise us correctly, with a responsibility to the community and responsibility to fellow man,” said Bill Polacek, president of JWF Industries in Johnstown.

“That is what he represented. He put his country and his district before himself. That will be hard to come by.”

Murtha’s work ethic and dedication was a common theme among those reacting to the news of his death. The breadth and depth of the congressman’s contributions over a 36-year career left some at a loss for words.

“It will take me personally days, if not weeks, to grasp the incredible loss of the congressman, who I knew quite well,” said Istvan Jaray, maestro of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. “We had so many conversations. Words are just not adequate.”

Jaray’s grief was shared by people from all professions.

Outside this area, Murtha’s name was linked mainly to defense spending. But in the Johnstown region, he was known as a passionate booster of many causes.

“He did it all for his community,” said Richard Mayer, former publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. “I’ve never known him to take anything for himself.”

“He was a remarkable guy,” Mayer added.

“Just look around his community, and you see his hand everywhere,”

That includes the Challenge Program, an initiative aimed at boosting student achievement.

“He was the finest mentor that any student or any young person could have,” said Renee Shaw, director of program development.

“He was a giant. Everywhere he went, he left his mark.

“We are so proud that we could be a part of working in his district.”

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