Michael Manzo was in sixth grade when he devoured a book that moved many young people of his generation not to politics but journalism: "All the President's Men."
"I guess I knew early that I liked politics," he would say later.
The son of a Beaver County steelworker and a mom who supplemented the family income by working at a jewelry store in the nearby mall, Mr. Manzo, 39, was raised in Monaca. He graduated fourth in his high school class, where played drums and baseball.
Graduating from Penn State in 1991 with a degree in marketing, he worked for a time as a salesman for AT&T and a ground agent for U.S. Airways before a veteran lawmaker, state Rep. Camille "Bud" George, picked him up as a Harrisburg staff aide.
The job recommendation came from a man with whom Mr. Manzo would later work: state Rep. Michael Veon, D-Beaver.
Co-workers described Mr. Manzo as a young man in a hurry to succeed. He worked at an almost frantic pace to rise up the Harrisburg ladder, volunteering on every campaign he could, while frequently being the last person to leave the office.
In 1999, he became press secretary to the House Democratic leader, state Rep. H. William DeWeese, and his chief of staff two years later.
Mr. Manzo has told acquaintances that the signal event that shaped his life was not the day in November when he was abruptly fired as the payroll bonus scandal spread. Rather, it was a moment in 1985 when his father, Carl, was gravely injured in an industrial accident.
Mr. Manzo watched a priest administer Extreme Unction -- often called "last rites" -- to his wounded father. Carl Manzo, whom the younger man described as his best friend. He survived but was permanently disabled by the injuries.
"I knew that after he survived I would never sweat the small stuff again," Mr. Manzo said.