HARRISBURG -- Former Pennsylvania Gov. George M. Leader, who rose from humble roots on a chicken farm to become governor in 1955, died Thursday after a brief illness. He was 95.
Two grandchildren were with Leader when he died at 5 a.m. at his home at Country Meadows nursing home in Hershey, part of retirement-community chain that he founded, said spokeswoman Kelly S. Kuntz.
"Up until two weeks ago he was still going to work," Kuntz said. "Gov. Leader lived a very full, active life."
A Democrat who was the second-youngest person to be elected Pennsylvania governor, Leader led an administration determined to rid government of patronage jobs and improve social services. Under his leadership, the state overhauled its mental health system and made special education a requirement in Pennsylvania schools.
He was the first governor to appoint a black cabinet officer. Later in life he worked as a private citizen on prison reform.
Leader was 37 when he took office in 1955. Before that, he was in the state Senate from 1951 to 1954. He ended his political career after losing a bid for U.S. Senate to Republican Hugh Scott and spent the next decades running his business.
Leader's wife, Mary Jane, moved into Country Meadows first, but he joined her and they lived there together before her death in March 2011.
Leader belonged to an old York County family, and the village of Leader Heights bears their name.
Hoover Funeral Homes and Crematory Inc. said it was handling arrangements but no details were available.obituaries - breaking - state