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'A rare individual who earned and kept the respect of everyone'
Times Leader - 1/27/2021
Jan. 27—PITTSTON TWP. — What follows here is a tribute to the late Patrick Solano, a decorated veteran of World War II and a longtime public servant who spent more than 40 years as a trusted friend and adviser to dozens of elected Pennsylvania officials.
Solano, 95, died peacefully at home, surrounded by his wife and family, on Jan. 23.
His obituary says it all: He graduated from Pittston Township High School in 1942 and was drafted by the US Army Air Corps. He served as a flight engineer on 23 combat missions with the Eighth US Air Force Heavy Bombardment Group, aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress. For his service he was awarded the Group Presidential Citation, the Air Force Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the European Combat Theatre Medal with two Bronze Stars.
Following WWII, Pat embarked on a lifetime of public service at both the local and state levels. He served in the administration of nine governors and was frequently recognized for being a trusted advisor, a voice of reason, and a unifying force in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
As an avid outdoorsman, Pat was particularly proud of his service to the environment. He served as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources and the Acting Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In 2013, the environmental learning center at Frances Slocum State Park was named in his honor.
Here is what those closest to Solano had to say:
Todd Rucci, who played offensive line at Penn State (1988-93) and then for the New England Patriots — he started for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI against the Green Bay Packers (Packers won 35-21)— said Solano was always a gentleman.
Rucci worked with Solano's son-in-law Tom Blaskiewicz at the PA Lottery Commission and got to spend time with Solano on several occasions.
One of Rucci's sons wanted to learn to hunt, but he could never have the time to go hunting because of commitments to playing football.
"Pat invited us to his cabin to allow me to teach my son how to hunt," Rucci said. "I'll never forget that."
Rucci said he was honored to be able to look through life through Solano's lens and see what he saw and he appreciated having the opportunity to gain that insight.
"Pat was able to see things in a way that most people were unable to see," Rucci said. "He was just one in a million who could understand and communicate with anyone. He was a rare individual who earned and kept the respect of everyone and he returned it to those he met."
One of Solano's closest friends was Bob Tambur, a real estate developer who had lunch with Solano almost every day.
"Pat was more than a very good friend — he was a confidant," Tambur said. He was a giant of a person in Northeastern Pennsylvania and far beyond. Everybody claimed him as one of their heroes."
Tambur said he believes Solano was placed on Earth to help people and he always did it with the utmost humility.
"People have no idea of the amount of people he has helped," Tambur said. "He was like a Babe Ruth — a hero to the average guy and to the the most powerful — they all claimed him because they knew he was for the betterment of the state and the community."
"The best word to describe Pat Solano would be unique. He was very gifted."
Robert Tamburro said Solano was a very special person in his life.
"And it's difficult for me to describe him in a few sentences. I think the characteristics of Pat that stood out to me most were his love of people, his intelligence, his energy, his sense of humor, and his special ability and willingness to get along with all kinds of people, regardless of differences. Pat loved camaraderie."
The State Senator
Former state Sen. Joe Scarnati, 59, of Brockway, said "seldom does a man like Pat Solano come along."
"Pat was unforgettable. He never demanded respect — he earned it. You sought his advice and he always gave it, no matter who was in the room. Pat always commanded the room'with style and grace."
"Nobody can ever replace him. We can only hope we can find someone who was paying attention to the example he set."
Federal Judge Jerry Pappert of Plymouth Meeting and a former state Attorney General (2003-2005) vacationed with the Solano family ever year at th4e Jersey shore.
"When you have a friend in the 90s, there is always the fear of that phone call," he said. "I got that phone call Saturday — there was nothing I could have done to prepare.
"I'm heartbroken, like countless other people. We all have this tremendous feeling of loss. Pat was the link between all of us — the glue, the leader, the one who brought us together and kept us together.
"Politics may have been the vehicle that Pat did much of his work, but that was never the priority. What mattered most were the people and the relationships. You can talk about his bipartisanship and wisdom and advice and counsel, and I as a recipient of all of those, but to me, Pat was my dearest friend. It's difficult to accept that I won't have those phone calls with him again. We knew the day was coming, but part of us could never see Pat succumbing to that of a mere mortal."
"Pat united us all — so now we must double our effort to stay together."
Judge Correale Stevens said Solano had the ability to heal divisions and get people to work together.
"He was respectful to everyone regardless of their race, gender or position in life. One of the reasons he was so well trusted is simple, he always kept his word and was always honest with others."
"He was a true leader, patriot and wonderful person, I am honored to have known him."
Ellen Ferretti, former DCNR Secretary under Gov. Tom Corbett, said Solano had many strengths, but she believes his kindness was paramount.
"Some call it horse sense, some call it common sense, but Pat's character exemplified the best of that wonderful and vital trait and his voice at the table, his voice of reason, will be sorely missed," she said. "I love that he never forgot where he came from. The day we announced the launch of the future site for the Patrick J. Solano Environmental Education Center at Frances Slocum State Park, attendees included dignitaries, elected officials, CEO's of large corporations, and his friends, so many friends, many from the neighborhood where he grew up."
"To me, he was a mentor and longtime family friend. He never knew that I was always quietly learning from him."
"He realized that a few years ago when he complemented me on something I did as Secretary of PA DCNR. I told him that I learned from the best — I learned from Pat.
"I am so humbled to have followed in his footsteps as a Secretary of DCNR from Northeast PA and to have shared his love of the outdoors, the forests, fields and streams. I am so proud to have been able to call Pat a friend and mentor, and I will miss him until the end of my days."
Pat Sicilio of Laflin, said he and Solano had a unique relationship.
"Most of the time we talked about general things — rarely about politics. Pat saw I had a fig tree, so he wanted a fig tree and he bought one. He didn't like figs, but he wanted a fig tree and he loved to talk about his fig tree. He liked fig trees because he was Italian and nobody else had a fig tree.
"Pat was a great gardener — I gave him some bean seeds from Italy that my dad brought over from Italy 70 or 80 years ago.
"Pat was also amazed at my iPhone. His dad was born in Italy. I asked him what town and I went to Google Earth and found the town and showed him the town where his father was born.
"Pat loved his garden and this year was the most productive garden he ever had — long Roma beans, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, Swiss chard, zucchini, and a big patch of mint. He also had an apple tree. He put two plastic chairs under it and that's where we would sit and just talk."
Leo Vergnetti, a close friend for years, said Solano was the most loyal and trusted friend a person could have.
"Pat was a guy who was always there, "he said. "He was a very interesting and super-intelligent person. He would sit with leaders of business, industry, and government and he would give them advice. And you could see they got it — that he knew what he was talking about. Pat was always more than what anybody thought.
"People would say Pat was an engineer during the bombing of Berlin. Actually, Pat was a navigator — never the pilot — but he was the navigator for air pilots and later in life for professionals and governmental and business leaders.
"You could rely on him and he always got you back safe. After the military, he navigated people through everything and anything."
"In 95 years, he never lost his way. He remained humble and willing to help from the highest to the lowest.
"And who did Pat Solano get his advice from? No surprise here. It was his life partner, his loving wife, Marie."
'Like a son'
Tom Marino, former U.S. Congressman, knew Solano for more than 30 years. He said when he received the call of Solano's passing, it was like a "punch in the gut."
"After my father died, Pat was like a father to me," he said. "I did not make a political move without his counsel. And I went to him for general life advice — Pat had uncommon common sense.
"Pat was the most brilliant political strategist that I ever met or will ever meet. Pat's expressions were so delightful and sincere. And Pat was the quintessential gentleman.
"Pat is irreplaceable. My heart aches and I will forever miss him. However, the regard is that our unique relationship will always be in my heart and my mind."
Father Paul McDonnell, rector of Oblates of St. Joseph's Seminary, knew Pat and his family for years. He talked about how Solano and Marie were pillars of the church at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, now St. Joseph Marello in Pittston.
"Marie and Pat were at Mass every Sunday morning. They were very devoted, faithful parishioners. They were always sure that the church was taken care of.
"Pat was the hometown guy that anybody in need felt they could go to for help. Just ask him if he knew somebody here or there and he would say 'let me make a few calls.' Pat was very much inter-connected on state and local level for anybody who need help."
"And it made Pat feel good to be able to help."
Nick DeBenedictis, former DER secretary, knew Solano for 40-plus years and the two stayed in close contact.
"Pat was one of a kind. He taught me loyalty. He would say that you can always get somebody smarter, or who works harder, but loyalty is something ingrained in the person, And boy he was loyal to his friends.
"Pat took over the department when it was in shambles and he fixed it. Pat didn't have a Harvard style, but he got the job done through common sense.
Nan McLaughlin of Mechanicsburg has worked on numerous political campaigns. That's how she and Solano met and became friends.
"It was always an honor and pleasure to work with him. He and I share the same value of family. Pat reminded me of my father. I truly feel blessed, being in the political arena, that I had a mentor like Pat.
"It wasn't always easy being a woman in this game. I'm a better person for having had Pat Solano in my life."
Attorney Jim Cummings of Jefferson Township met Solano through the Boy Scouts of America when Solano was being honored.
"Pat showed me his 1943 BSA card that he carried with him. We honored him as Citizen of the Year. Pat always spoke from his heart. He spoke of honor, to be true to your word, to always have self respect and dignity and to treat others the same.
"There was never a selfish or spiteful reason for anything Pat did. He helped so many who have benefited because of the work that Pat Solano quietly accomplished."
"In Pat's eyes, everybody had value."
John McCarthy of McCarthy Tire Co., met Solano through his dad, Jack McCarthy.
"Pat was a guy who everybody respected and admired. Whenever I was in a meeting with pat, he controlled the room. When he spoke, everybody listened. I loved his stories. He was just incredible and what a mind he had."
"And Pat was multi-generational — he could talk to people of all generations and communicate, keeping everyone interested and engaged. I've never met anybody who didn't say good things about Pat.
Attorney John Moses, "a very active Democrat," said he had the good fortune of working with Solano on several projects.
"Pat was the patriarch of politics in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He had the uncommon combination of qualities of talent and personality. It will be impossible to replace him."
Sen. Lisa Baker
"Pat was a friend, confidante, advisor, and mentor — a second father, really.
"Pat was a political guy, a policy guy, but most of all a people person. He cared deeply about his community, about the environment, about opportunity in our region. He was fully committed to and practiced the precepts and principles of public service. He was equally adept, whether serving in a state government position, acting as counselor to governors, or calming political disputes on his home turf.
"We have too few like Pat around, the canny and savvy master mechanic who made sure the gears of good government were properly lubricated and operating, who exuded respect and generosity of spirit toward others./
In remembrance of Solano, WVIA will air a special rebroadcast of the award-winning original documentary film "War Stories: Pat Solano," on Friday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 1:30 p.m. on WVIA TV.
Solano completed 23 combat missions with the Eighth U.S. Air Force Heavy Bombardment Group. During his military career he earned multiple military honors and medals.
For more information and to watch "War Stories: Pat Solano" on-demand, visit https://on-demand.wvia.org/video/wvia-special-presentations-war-stories-pat-solano/
(c)2021 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
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