It is fitting for us to honor Patrick Solano, for his sense of honor and duty and patriotism during World War II. We have many times said how important it is for us to understand the lives and lessons from those who remain of our Greatest Generation.
It is especially fitting for the state Senate to host this ceremony, for Pat has a record of more than forty years engaging here, working with leaders and members on both sides of the aisle, Marty Murray, Dick Tilghman, Bob Mellow, Ed Holl, Bob Jubelirer, Ed Zemprelli, Joe Scarnati, Jake Corman, Jay Costa.
Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote a book about the bomber crews of WW II entitled The Wild Blue, and it really impresses the difficulties, the hazards, and the stress of what Pat and others experienced. The B-17 Flying Fortress had a ten-man crew, and Pat was flight engineer. They completed 25 missions over Germany. That involved dropping 185 bombs on military targets to help demolish the capacity of the Nazis to continue the war. Pat earned several medals for his distinguished service. There is a key point to be made in respect to the tremendous responsibility these fliers shouldered and their exemplary execution of their mission. When the war ended, none of the crew had yet reached the age of 21.
During a visit to the Smithsonian in 2002 arranged by Tom Ridge when he was Director of Homeland Security, my family and I joined Pat and his wife, Marie for a special viewing of the WWII exhibit, including a B-17 on display. Our son, Carson, was 10. He looked into the plane and said, “How did you fit in there?!” Pat smiled and said, “I was your size at the time!”
This service during WWII is a commendable, distinguished, incredible record. But in Pat’s case it is merely the opening chapter of a life centered on honor, duty, and patriotism. He was of an age when we still realized that smart politics could yield good governance, and that the reverse was true as well.
Tribute articles credit him with counseling 10 governors, beginning in 1971 when he was the head of the General State Authority. Some might read this as him providing therapy for their distress, particularly over the shaky legislative relations they all lamented and occasionally cursed.
In truth, it has been more at finding ways to prevent and repair political problems that’s been the hallmark of Pat’s legacy, irrespective of the parties involved. Having people step back from standoff, and allowing negotiations and accommodations to proceed. Turning lose-lose confrontations into win-win outcomes.
One of those governors, in a misplaced attempt of housecleaning, fired Pat. The governor was probably surprised to quickly receive a letter signed by every single member of the Senate, indicating that the administration would be well served to find him another spot. He was without a job for less than a week.
With Pat, as many of us know, one story leads to another. His landing place was the old Department of Environmental Resources, as a special counselor to Nick DeBenedictis. This was fortuitous because it was a time when environmental issues were achieving a new level of significance and controversy. He quickly became the go-to leader on cutting red tape and making things happen.
When the Ridge administration decided to divide DER, Pat was on hand for the birth of DCNR and was indispensable in getting it up and running, and fulfilling the mission we envisioned. He served as its first cabinet Secretary, and later took on the responsibility of Senior Advisor to the Governor. Governor Ridge always referred to him as his “911,” a title that stuck because he has embodied that role for so many.
Pat of course has always had a special commitment and devotion for northeastern Pennsylvania. But I’m sorry to say to Senator Yudichak and Blake, Gordner, Scavello and all of those who hail from the northeast, there was one Senate district he prized above all – the 20th District. From his initial work with T. Newell Wood as a field representative, to Frank O’Connell, to Charlie Lemmond, to me, he has always been there with support, guidance, experience, wisdom, and perhaps best of all, an endless catalog of funny stories to spice our recollections and discussions and help us navigate and keep going.
Pat is also joined today by a long-time friend, Andrew J. Sordoni, III, whose grandfather also served as the Senator for the 20th District. Andy has notably and accurately called Pat the most energetic and active patriot in Pennsylvania, gifted with an amazing ability to solve problems and give advice in the best interest of society and government.
It is said that Pat retired in 2002. Well, maybe officially. But unofficially he never quit doing what he does best and what he loves to do for the general good our region, our state and nation.
Throughout my professional career, Pat has been an integral part of it. I have the utmost respect for all he has done and accomplished, for the manner in which he has conducted himself, and for his incredible devotion to our country and state. I will forever cherish his friendship and his contributions. And yes Pat, anytime you like you can call me your seventh daughter.