Pete du Pont remembered; he may forever influence Delaware politics
Delawares gathered in Wilmington on Friday to honor Pete du Pont, the transformational governor whose influence is still steeped in state politics.
Du Pont died at age 86 in May 2021 at his Wilmington home after battling a “long illness”, a family representative said at the time. A memorial service was not scheduled immediately after his death due to the pandemic.
Several notable politicians attended the memorial service at the Playhouse on Rodney Square, including US Senator Tom Carper, former Governor Mike Castle and current Governor John Carney.
Mehmet Oz, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, was also present. The wives of Oz and Ben du Pont, one of Pete du Pont’s sons, are sisters.
Born into Delaware’s most famous family, du Pont broke with family tradition to become a politician. The state was plunged into a financial crisis when he became governor in 1977. Over eight years, du Pont led efforts to curb overspending, drastically cut income taxes, and created a slew of government agencies .
His administration persuaded major banks to relocate to Delaware through tax cuts and deregulation, re-establishing Delaware as a corporate tax haven.
“He set a new standard for how we treat each other in this state,” Carney said in his remarks. “And it changed our expectations of ourselves. Some call it the Delaware Way, others a comeback day effort. Whatever you call it, it just meant working together to get things done.
“It’s something we take for granted now.”
Carney, who had a similar political career path to du Pont, said the state’s economy is “built on the back of Governor du Pont’s decisions.”
The four du Pont children – Elise Zoller and Pierre, Ben and Thére du Pont – shared stories about their father, such as how he kept Snickers in a drawer in his desk for “emergencies” and only raised his voice when sailing.
Ben du Pont explained how he and his siblings had the chance to meet different dignitaries and celebrities because of their father. This included actress Elizabeth Taylor, who previously stayed with the du Ponts. At breakfast, she asked for a beer.
During his political career, du Pont established himself as a moderate Republican as the sole U.S. Representative from Delaware, advocating for the environment and campaign spending reform. His political career, post-gubernatorial, included a failed run for the White House.
Du Pont’s politics have shifted more to the right over the years, once described as a mixture of Reagan conservatism and libertarianism.
In his eulogy, columnist George Will noted how du Pont’s politics and values contrast with politics today. He said it is “du Pont’s cheerfulness that is most lacking in American politics today”.
Throughout the memorial service, many commented on how much du Pont was appreciated by the people who worked for him and by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“Winston Churchill said meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening a bottle of champagne,” Will said. “Pete was like that. He was a tonic in human form, a stimulant to all who had the pleasure of his company.
The memorial service ended with a chant of “God Bless America,” a nod to du Pont’s favorite sports team, the Philadelphia Flyers, who play a rendition before every game.
Longtime Flyers anthem singer Lauren Hart led the song in a pre-recorded video. She wore du Pont’s jersey.
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 256-2466 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.