Cumberland County residents may remember former Sen. Harold “Hal” Mowery as the state legislator who pushed health care reform long before the Affordable Care Act became law.
But for the lawmakers who knew Mowery, it is his smile and charm they’ll remember most.
“He was a picture-perfect senator,” said Sen. Pat Vance, R-31, who twice succeeded Mowery in the state House and Senate. “He had the most radiant smile. I’ll never forget it.”
Mowery died at his home Monday at the age of 84 after battling pneumonia and several other illnesses, the family said.
He represented the 87th congressional district in the state House from 1976 until 1990. He was elected to the state Senate in 1993 and served three terms for the 31st district.
Gov. Tom Corbett released a statement Tuesday commemorating the late senator, who once ran for lieutenant governor alongside Republican gubernatorial candidate Barbara Hafer in 1990.
“Many Pennsylvanians outside his district did not know him at the time, but were impressed when they met the quiet, steady, self-effacing man whose charm and modesty defied political stereotypes,” he said. “He came to the general assembly with the background of a small businessman, and the commonsense and sense of responsibility that role embodies. One of the greatest examples was his leadership in the field of lawsuit reform and the passage of legislation that better protects all sides in liability cases.”
In March 2002, Mowery pushed through a major piece of legislation known as the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act. It established Mcare — a state-operated fund that functioned as a backup malpractice insurer for beleaguered doctors.
In addition, the bill included tort reforms that limited liability damages and established a Patient Safety Authority and a Patient Safety Trust Fund funded by medical facilities.
Later in 2002, the Senate passed a lawsuit-reform bill that holds defendants responsible for only a share of an award proportionate to their responsibility for the harm inflicted in a case.
Mowery told The Sentinel during a 2004 interview the bill limits plaintiffs from going after multiple parties — including businesses and hospitals that have deep pockets but may have played only a minor role in a wrong inflicted on someone. Another bill ended “venue shopping” by requiring malpractice lawsuits to be filed in the county where the alleged misconduct took place.
He said, at the time, ignoring these problems would pave the way to universal health care.
“We all come to the legislature with certain areas of expertise and Hal was no different,” said Rep. Glen Grell, R-87. ”He was a true leader on issues relating to finance, banking, insurance and commercial transactions and had a distinguished legislative record.”
Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler, who opposed Mowery in the 2000 senate election, called the former lawmaker “an absolute gentleman” who garnered respect and admiration from all who knew him.
“I know that when I ran against him for the state Senate 14 years ago, he was a bit disappointed in me when I called to tell him in advance that I planned to run,” Hertzler said Tuesday. “He didn’t understand what he had done that I would challenge him in that race. But, as I tried to explain, it was nothing personal. It was based on my strong belief that people deserve to have a choice in every election and that my campaign would be, foremost, issue-oriented. And, so it was.”
Hertzler said Mowery “clobbered” him in the election, but still expressed appreciation for running an “above-board” campaign.
“The senator was first class,” he said. “His family is first class.”
Mowery is survived by his wife, Phyllis, two children and eight grandchildren.
In addition to his service as a legislator, Mowery was also a former Camp Hill school board member, serving the Camp Hill community in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In a joint statement from Camp Hill School Board President Steve Karl and Superintendent David Reeder, they said Mowery and his wife also provided resources to the district for the multimedia lab located in the middle/high school, as well as instrumental to facilitate the building of the Grace Milliman Pollock Performing Arts Center, as well as the endowment to support the facility.
“Sen. Mowery’s legacy will live on through many exceptional projects and programs,” the statement said. “His gentle demeanor and caring spirit touched the lives of many as he served his community and the public at large.”
Mowery was also a graduate of Dickinson College, which said in a statement Tuesday, “We are saddened by the loss of Harold Mowery and offer our condolences to his family. Hal was a distinguished Dickinson alumnus and dedicated public servant.”
Email Christen Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCSmith