The Honorable Henry G. Hager, representing the 23rd Clinton, Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, and Tioga District, was born on April 28, 1934 in Williamsport, the son of Dr. Henry G. and Eleanor Watt Hager. He received a BA in 1956 from Wesleyan University, graduating in 1959 from the University of Pennsylvania law school. Nicknamed “Merc,” derived from the chemical symbol indicated by his initials, HGH (mercury), Senator Hager married Michigan native and Hollins College, Virginia graduate Sallie Ann Parrish “47 days after they met” during college vacation at Fort Lauderdale.
Henry began a two-year stint in 1962 as special deputy attorney general during the Lawrence administration, becoming a four-year Lycoming County District Attorney in 1964. Concerning civic, fraternal, and charitable service, Hager chaired the Pennsylvania Cancer Society, served as past master of the John F. Laedlein Lodge #707, held a membership with the Williamsport Consistory, and acted as senior warden of Trinity Episcopal Church.
He joined the Senate in November 1972, returning in 1976 and 1980. The three-term Republican advanced in the caucus as minority leader, succeeding the deceased Richard Frame, eventually filling the president pro tem chair during the Thornburgh administration. Hager’s notable accomplishments included passage of the Agricultural Area Security Law, June 30, 1981, the addition of the first Senate computer system, the installation and employment of a bipartisan management committee’s service, and the establishment, with the aid of Steve MacNett and Alvin Bush, of the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
Hager emerged as the Republican floor leader in 1977, succeeding deceased Senator Richard Frame (R-Venango). As a freshman, Hager championed a slow nickel approach to taxation initiatives, as opposed to Shapp’s fast dime. He particularly abhorred the monumental, annual spending increases promoted by the administration, opting for more deliberate analyses of proposed budget increases. Hager and Senate colleague Bob Jubelirer established property tax reform and the cost of public education as centerpieces for Senate debate.
Hager supported passage of the Insurance Act of 1973, the 1974 no-fault insurance bill (reluctantly), and Jeanette Reibman’s “Taj Mahal” bill, establishing cost standards relevant to the construction of new public schools. He backed the 1974 Clean and Green Act but stood with Governor Shapp in opposition to the same session’s Dougherty Abortion Bill. In the same year, Hager found allies in majority leader Tom Nolan’s anti-tax and spend Democratic faction, forging an arms-length coalition to promote tax relief. Republican’s regained the majority in 1980, and Hager emerged as the 1981-1982 Republican pro tem.
Before Hager’s emergence as the Senate’s leader, and following the 1977 budget brawl, the senator ran as a 1978 gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania’s first open primary. Henry stumped statewide in an “ancient mini-bus,” at one point noting that he “felt like I’m in an old war movie.” At other times, he piloted himself in his personal airplane. He commanded a cogent, intellectual approach in debates with candidates of respected mettle. His sense of humor could be spontaneous, as it appeared during his campaign-trail impressions of rival gubernatorial candidates Richard Thornburgh and Arlen Specter – sending the audience into uproarious laughter during a Pittsburgh debate.
Former Lieutenant Governor and President of the Senate William Scranton III regarded Henry as a tireless worker and a major reason for the Republican Senate’s revival in the early 80s. Former president pro tempore of the Senate and Hager’s former floor leader, Senator Robert Jubelirer, noted, Merc “was a true reformer.” Senator Hager resigned from the upper house on November 30, 1984 to become president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. Senator Hager and his wife currently reside in Florida.
Williamsport Sun-Gazette, May 6-12, 1978; Interviews: Alvin Bush and former Lt. Governor William Scranton.