JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - Seconds after giving a roaring introduction to a state judicial candidate at a breakfast rally Saturday, the longtime head of the Democratic Party in Cambria County collapsed and died.

Bill Joseph, 80, of Franklin, had just introduced state Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffery at a Johnstown restaurant when he collapsed, witnesses said. McCaffery, a former Philadelphia police officer who ran a special court at Eagles' games, is a candidate for the state Supreme Court.

"Judge McCaffery walked around in front of the table to talk to the people and . . . Bill collapsed," said Ed Cernic Sr.

Norman Joseph told the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown that his father had few health complaints and no known heart problems.

"He died with his boots on," the son said. "He was giving them a hell of a speech, sat down and collapsed. It was pretty sudden, pretty quick."

Bill Joseph was active in the Democratic Party throughout his adult life and became county chairman in 1978.

County elections director Fred Smith called Joseph "the backbone of the party."

"Bill Joseph was a good friend," said U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. "I've known him for 30 years and it's ironic he died doing the thing he loved most - politics."

"The one thing that distinguished Bill Joseph was his sense of duty to this state and his party," said Mark Singel, a Johnstown resident who was lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. from 1987 to 1995. "He was a man who understood the concept of duty and he was absolutely loyal."

The death was confirmed yesterday by Frank Duca Funeral Home Inc. in Johnstown.

Services will be Thursday at St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Johnstown. *