HARRISBURG

- Former Pennsylvania Gov. George M. Leader, the son of a chicken farmer who was elected to the state's highest office before he turned 40, died yesterday after a brief illness. He was 95.

Two grandchildren were at Leader's side when he died at his home at Country Meadows assisted-living center in Hershey, a spokeswoman for the facility said. The center was the first in a network of 10 such facilities that Leader and his wife founded in 1985.

A Democrat who was the second-youngest person to be elected Pennsylvania governor, Leader fought to rid government of patronage jobs and improve social services. Under his leadership, the state overhauled its mental-health system and made special-education a requirement in Pennsylvania schools. And, he was the first governor to appoint a black Cabinet officer.

Gov. Corbett ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset on the day that Leader is buried. Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

Leader was 37 when he took office as governor in 1955, and he served one four-year term, the maximum allowed by law at the time.

Leader ended his political career after losing a bid for U.S. Senate to Republican Hugh Scott in 1958 and spent the following decades running his assisted-living businesses and fighting for causes such as prison reform.