Late Del. Gov. du Pont remembered for bipartisanship, humor

File photo: Republican presidential candidates pose before starting their debate on Sunday, Feb. 14, 1988 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. From left are Vice President George Bush, Pat Robertson, Rep. Jack Kemp, Pierre ''Pete'' du Pont and Senator Bob Dole. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

File photo: Republican presidential candidates pose before starting their debate on Sunday, Feb. 14, 1988 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. From left are Vice President George Bush, Pat Robertson, Rep. Jack Kemp, Pierre ''Pete'' du Pont and Senator Bob Dole. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Current and former Delaware politicians, family and friends of Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV remembered the late governor, U.S. House member and presidential candidate for reviving the state’s economy, working across the partisan aisle and sharing a cheerful spirit.

Friday’s memorial service at a Wilmington theater came nearly a year after du Pont died in May 2021 at age 86 after a long illness. COVID-19 safety concerns delayed the tribute until now, news outlets reported.

“As Pete understood, our political adversaries can and should be friends,” conservative columnist George Will, a longtime friend to du Pont, said in his eulogy. “Pete did it right and had fun all the way.”

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A member of the moneyed family known for its chemical company holdings, du Pont broke from the business world toward law and Republican politics. Following one term in the state House and three terms in Congress, du Pont was elected governor in 1976 and set about working to restore the state’s financial stability.

Du Pont forged successful relationships with lawmakers from both parties to tackle prison overcrowding, corruption and school desegregation. He was reelected in a landslide in 1980. His second term was marked by landmark legislation he signed that loosened Delaware’s banking laws, making the state attractive to some of the nation’s largest credit card companies.

The state’s economy is “built on the back of Gov. du Pont’s decisions,” current Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said during the service.

”He set a new standard for how we treat each other in this state,” Carney added. “And it changed our expectations about ourselves.”

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Du Pont announced in 1986 what became a longshot presidential bid. He attempted to separate himself from better-known candidates by questioning social programs that rivals feared to address. He withdrew in early 1988 following poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Du Pont’s four children shared remembrances as well, particularly his humor. His son, Ben, recalled asking why his father had taken up bowling: “He said, ‘I made more friends and gained more votes than anything else I have done.’”

“He could make anyone laugh and that was just a gift to have,” added his widow, Elise, in a recording shown on a big screen.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and former Gov. Mike Castle also attended Friday’s service, which concluded with the singing of “God Bless America.” A version is played before every home game for the Philadelphia Flyers — du Pont’s favorite team. The longtime anthem singer for the Flyers led the song in a prerecorded video.

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