WWII vet Patrick Solano, who served nine Pa. governors, dies at 95

By BOB KALINOWSKI | The Citizens' Voice | Published: January 24, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Patrick Solano, a World War II combat veteran from Pittston Township who served in the administrations of nine Pennsylvania governors, has died. He was 95.

Solano died Saturday at home surrounded by his family, said attorney Frank Nocito, his nephew.

Nocito, 63, remembered Solano as a humble man who befriended and gained the trust of the most notable powerbrokers in the state and nation, but never forgot his roots.

"He was truly a confidant to all — from presidents to a guy who came from Italy to Pittston. From the highest of the high to the everyday ordinary man, he treated everyone with respect," Nocito said.

Nocito, who visited Solano's home nearly every Sunday since he was a child, said Solano was life's biggest mentor.

"Forget college. Forget law school. Talking with Uncle Pat was a real life education," Nocito said.

Drafted into World War II with the U.S. Army Air Corps, Solano served as flight engineer on 23 combat missions over Germany in a B-17 bomber. He recounted his wartime heroics in an interview in July with The Citizens' Voice, reflecting back that "I remember it all."

After the war, Solano went on to work in state government. While he was a lifelong Republican, he loyally served both Democratic and Republican governors and was seen as a bipartisan dealmaker.

At one point, he headed the state Department of Environmental Resources and later the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources when that agency split into two.

He also was deputy secretary of the Department of General Services, putting him in charge of all state-funded building projects.

Solano ended his career as senior counselor to Republican Gov. Tom Ridge.

Ridge asked Solano to join him in Washington, D.C., when Ridge was appointed to head the new Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But Solano decided to call it a career.

"He wanted to take me to Washington. I told him to go find a younger guy. I'm too old," Solano joked in the July interview.

In the interview, Solano talked about his philosophy on governance.

"I was in public service all my life. I always tried to find the common ground on stuff. I look at people today and they can't get along on anything. There's no middle," Solano said. "I'm a Republican by title. But I dealt with the Democrats all my life. They like me and I like them."

In a statement released Saturday, Ridge recalled Solano as a proud patriot, a gentleman and a beloved bipartisan public servant who lived "a consequential life" that should be a Hollywood movie. Ridge said he nicknamed Solano his "Mr. 911" because he was his go-to guy for advice in politics.

"Pat embodied the Greatest Generation — a life of honor and service in which he always put others first. He will be deeply missed, but his legacy will be felt here in his beloved Pennsylvania — and around the world — forever," Ridge said.

Family members recall that during the 2014 campaign between then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and challenger Tom Wolf, the current Democratic governor, both men called Solano for advice. Even at age 95, government officials in Harrisburg sought Solano's input and he was still considered a senior advisor to the state Senate.

Bipartisan tributes flowed Saturday after word circulated that Solano had died. Three former governors, a U.S. senator, two congressmen, four state senators and others sent statements praising Solano to local media.

State Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, of Swoyersville, said Solano's career "will remain unmatched in its length and in the sheer breadth of his accomplishments."

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, of Lehman Township said she wanted to "give a sad but fond last farewell" to Solano.

"He was a friend, confidant, adviser and mentor — a second father really," Baker said. "Pat was a political guy, a policy guy, but most of all a people person ... He was fully committed to and practiced the precepts and principles of public service. He had faith in his ability to find the better angels in those on both sides of the political fence, locating common ground where no one else was looking ... His mind was the Wikipedia of Pennsylvania politics reaching back nearly a century."

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