State Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, 70, of Reading, Democratic whip of the Senate and the longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania legislature, died Monday of complications following heart-bypass surgery at Reading Hospital and Medical Center.
Sen. O'Pake served as the first chairman of the Aging and Youth Committee, and helped draft the state's Child Protective Services legislation, which helps victims of abuse.
He was a leading supporter of the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and advocated for juvenile justice changes to remove youthful offenders from adult prisons.
Sen. O'Pake also championed legislation that created the state Department of Aging and separate offices of aging in every county. He worked to help the elderly receive rent rebates and prescription drug assistance.
Sen. O'Pake grew up in a federal housing project, and the experience helped shape his life and politics. He was elected to the Senate in 1972 after two terms in the House.
He was remembered by colleagues as a legislator who was dedicated to his Berks County community and who worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass legislation aimed at helping those who are underserved.
"Sen. O'Pake committed his life to public service and making life better for all the citizens of Pennsylvania and his beloved Berks County," said Sen. Jay Costa, Senate Democratic leader.
"From seniors who needed help in paying for lifesaving prescription drugs to children that benefitted from his work in creating the state's children's health insurance program, Sen. O'Pake was a leader who made a difference."