Ernest P. Kline, the radio news reporter who broke into politics with a run for Beaver Falls council and quickly climbed into the state's second highest office, died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
Mr. Kline, who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, served as lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1979 in the administration of Democratic Gov. Milton J. Shapp, where he promoted progressive causes. He helped form commissions to advance women and assist senior citizens, among other accomplishments, said Monica Kline, the youngest of his seven children.
He remained a "staunch Democrat" throughout life, Ms. Kline, of Myerstown, said, and supported President Barack Obama, whom he met during the presidential primary.
Mr. Kline lived in Palmyra, Lebanon County, until his death.
A devout Catholic, Mr. Kline was born June 20, 1929, to Allen and Elna Natali Kline in Allentown, Pa., but was raised in the Webster section of Rostraver in Westmoreland County. At Rostraver High School, where he graduated in 1947, Mr. Kline proved himself a leader as starting quarterback of the football team.
But despite his leadership skills, his daughter said, Mr. Kline was not an obvious candidate for a career in politics. His father died when he was young, and Mr. Kline couldn't afford to finish college at Duquesne University, opting instead for a career in radio news broadcasting, starting in Charleroi, with stints in Connellsville and Kittanning.
It was in Kittanning where he met his wife, Josephine, and the couple moved to Beaver Falls, where he worked at WBVP-AM, covering city council meetings.
"He came home one night and said, 'Shoot, I could do that,' " his daughter said. He won election to the Beaver Falls council in 1955.
Then-Gov. David L. Lawrence in 1961 appointed Mr. Kline as a workers' compensation referee for Beaver, Washington and Greene counties.
He again ascended the political ranks in 1964 and was elected to the state Senate, representing Beaver and Lawrence counties.
Because of reapportionment, he ran for election again in 1966 and 1968, winning re-election each time. In August 1967, his Democratic legislative colleagues tapped him to be floor leader, the youngest person to hold the post. And just three years later, Mr. Kline went on to win his highest post, lieutenant governor.
"He fought through not having the pedigree that one would expect of a candidate," Ms. Kline said. "What made my father successful was a resilience of being raised in a hard-working area. He had a work ethic about him that, if you studied hard and you worked, you would be rewarded."
He left public office in 1979 but worked as a lobbyist and president of Kline Associates, a government consulting business now run by Ms. Kline and his son, John, of Reading.
He also was an active volunteer, working with the Ronald McDonald House of the Hershey Medical Center, the United Way and other agencies.
In addition to his daughter and son, Mr. Kline is survived by his wife, Josephine; daughters Patricia Kline Just, of Pittsburgh; Myra Ann Taylor, of Harrisburg; sons Samuel A. Kline, of Lebanon; Michael Kline, of Harrisburg, and Vincent Kline, of Harrisburg; a brother, William; and 12 grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Rothermel Funeral Home, Palmyra. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Palmyra.
The family suggests donations to United Way of Lebanon County, 801 Cumberland St., Lebanon, PA 17042.
Sadie Gurman can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1878.