READING - State Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, 70, of Berks County, died yesterday in Reading Hospital, where he had been recovering from complications from heart-bypass surgery Nov. 22, according to the Pennsylvania Senate.
He was the longest-serving member in the General Assembly and recently was re-elected as Democratic whip in the Senate for the 2011-12 legislative term.
O'Pake represented Reading and surrounding areas.
"I get a lot of credit for things happening in Reading, but the real guy behind it all is Mike O'Pake," said Albert R. Boscov, chairman and chief executive officer of Boscov's Inc.
"Many in the community don't realize how important he's been. There's not a project he hasn't had his hand in."
O'Pake was a graduate of St. Joseph's University. He was one of the most visible public figures in Berks, appearing at a half-dozen events in an evening, Boscov said.
O'Pake was elected to the General Assembly in 1968, upsetting the representative for his House district in Reading, and entered the Senate in 1972.
Born Feb. 2, 1940, he saw the problems faced by the poor at an early age and entered public service to try to make government responsive to the needs of the powerless and marginalized, Senate spokesman Jim Hertzler said.
As the first chairman of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, O'Pake wrote the Child Protective Services law to help victims of child abuse.
He fought for legislation creating the Department of Aging, with Offices of Aging in all 67 counties to help senior citizens, and for property-tax and rent rebates and prescription assistance for the elderly. He also led legislative efforts on juvenile-justice reform and was a leading advocate of the state's landmark Children's Health Insurance Program.