Dick Thornburgh, a two-term Republican governor of Pennsylvania who coped with America’s worst nuclear energy meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 and later served as United States lawyer normal beneath Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, died on Thursday at a retirement dwelling in Oakmont, Pa., outdoors Pittsburgh. He was 88.
His son David confirmed the demise.
To hundreds of thousands of voters who elected him, to 5 presidents he labored for within the Justice Department, and to a whole lot of organized-crime figures, white-collar criminals and corrupt public officers he prosecuted, Mr. Thornburgh was an formidable man with a method for achievement: Clean home, restore order and transfer on to greater workplace.
It labored for greater than 20 years. He was Richard M. Nixon’s federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh (1969 to 1975) and Gerald R. Ford’s and Jimmy Carter’s assistant lawyer normal answerable for the prison division (1975 to 1977). He was the one Republican to serve two successive phrases as Pennsylvania governor (1979 to 1987). And he was the lawyer normal who bridged the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments (1988 to 1991).
But there was no method for coping with a nuclear meltdown. Trained in civil engineering and the legislation, Mr. Thornburgh was accustomed to coping with the chilly, laborious details of sciences and statutes. But details had been laborious to return by within the maelstrom of chaos and concern after the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island energy plant close to Harrisburg, Pa., on March 28, 1979.
It occurred 10 weeks after he grew to become governor, and 12 days after the discharge of “The China Syndrome,” a Jane Fonda-Jack Lemmon movie a few runaway nuclear accident, with its discuss of a reactor burning all the best way down by means of the planet to China or exploding in Southern California with a blanket of radioactivity that may “render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable,” as one character put it.
Three Mile Island, 10 miles south of the State Capitol on the Susquehanna River, was no China Syndrome. Overheated nuclear gasoline pellets melted, a containment was breached and leaking radiation contaminated the plant and escaped into the air. But persistent confusion over what had occurred and the extent of the hazard, compounded by dire warnings by antinuclear activists, left the general public disconcerted.
Taking cost of the disaster, Governor Thornburgh was a peaceful voice in opposition to panic and made selections that proved to be right. He ordered a precautionary evacuation of pregnant ladies and younger youngsters in a five-mile radius across the plant. About 140,000 individuals left. And when a false report unfold that the plant would possibly blow up, he consulted specialists, referred to as reporters in and introduced that no such hazard existed.
“You have to reassure people,” he mentioned. “You have to go before the cameras and microphones and tell them what you know and what you don’t. You have to stop the rumors, and, of course, you have to make decisions. There isn’t any Republican or Democratic way to deal with a nuclear crisis. Nobody has ever had to deal with this kind of accident before.”
President Carter, visiting the crippled plant 5 days after the accident, praised the governor’s “superlative” efficiency. “Because of the trust of the American people in him, and particularly those who live in this region, potential panic and disturbance has been minimized,” Mr. Carter mentioned.
It was a formidable begin on the nationwide stage for Mr. Thornburgh, a Rockefeller average and a rising Republican star elected on a promise to position Pennsylvania on stable financial footing and to crack down on corruption, which had festered beneath a Democratic predecessor, Gov. Milton J. Shapp. (He additionally provided voters a catchy slogan with which to recollect his identify: “Thornburgh as in Pittsburgh.”)
Mr. Thornburgh balanced the price range eight straight years, eradicated 15,000 state jobs, streamlined the forms, minimize taxes and state indebtedness, and left workplace with a $350 million surplus. He additionally diminished unemployment, carried out welfare reforms and pushed financial growth. The personal sector added 50,000 companies and 500,000 jobs. By the top of his time period, he had a 72 % approval ranking.
He taught at Harvard for a yr, and in 1988, President Reagan, nearing the top of his second time period, named Mr. Thornburgh to succeed Attorney General Edwin L. Meese third, who had resigned beneath a cloud of ethics and misconduct allegations. Five months later, the newly elected President Bush retained him as lawyer normal, and he grew to become the administration’s level man on prison justice and civil rights points.
Mr. Thornburgh diminished organized-crime strike forces across the nation, arguing that federal prosecutors may do a greater job. He attacked white-collar crime, profitable convictions in a savings-and-loan scandal and in opposition to protection contractors, securities merchants and corrupt public officers, and strengthened enforcement in opposition to drug trafficking, cash laundering and terrorism.
He resigned as lawyer normal in 1991 to run in a particular election for the unexpired time period of Senator John Heinz, a Pennsylvania Republican who had been killed in a midair airplane crash. Harris Wofford, a Democrat and former Pennsylvania labor secretary, had been appointed quickly, and main Republicans had been longing for Mr. Thornburgh to win the seat again, and maybe use it as a steppingstone to the presidency.
Mr. Thornburgh was closely favored. But after a sluggish marketing campaign, through which he continued to speak about being powerful on crime, he misplaced to Mr. Wofford, a former faculty president and aide to John F. Kennedy, in that rarest of political rarities, an upset landslide. Mr. Wofford overcame a 47 % Thornburgh lead within the polls and gained going away, by a 56 to 44 margin of victory.
Richard Lewis Thornburgh was born in Pittsburgh on July 16, 1932, to Charles and Alice (Sanborn) Thornburgh. His father was an engineer. After graduating from Mercersburg Academy, a Pennsylvania prep faculty, in 1950, he earned an engineering diploma from Yale in 1954 and a legislation diploma from the University of Pittsburgh in 1957.
In 1959 he joined the Pittsburgh-based legislation agency of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.
Mr. Thornburgh had married Virginia Hooton, his childhood sweetheart, in 1955 and had three sons together with her, John, David and Peter. She was killed in 1960 in a automobile accident that left Peter completely mind broken. In 1963, Mr. Thornburgh married Ginny Judson, with whom he had a fourth son, William.
In addition to his son David, Mr. Thornburgh is survived by Ms. Judson; his different sons; six grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren.
For years Mr. Thornburgh and his second spouse championed equal rights and alternatives for individuals with disabilities, a battle they joined initially on behalf of Peter. As the lawyer normal, Mr. Thornburgh led the Bush administration’s drive in Congress to enact the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which barred discrimination in opposition to individuals with bodily, psychological and sensory disabilities.
He started his political profession with an unsuccessful run for a Pittsburgh seat within the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 and ended it 25 years later together with his 1991 Senate loss to Mr. Wofford.
He served a yr at the United Nations as undersecretary answerable for personnel, price range and funds, then resumed legislation follow the place his profession had begun, at what’s now Okay & L Gates, one of many nation’s largest worldwide legislation companies.
He wrote many articles and stories on litigation and public coverage, and was the writer of “Where the Evidence Leads: An Autobiography” (2003) and “Puerto Rico’s Future: A Time to Decide” (2007), which referred to as for self-determination for the United States territory he described as a vestige of colonialism.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.