Arlen Specter, who died of cancer last Sunday aged 82, had been a US Senator for 30 years — the longest serving in Pennsylvania’s history.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, he moved aged 12 to Russell in the same state, where he claimed theirs was the only Jewish family in town. He was a tenaciously independent character with a healthy dose of self-confidence and wit. He even did some stand-up comedy for charity in his 70s.
He qualified as a lawyer from Yale in 1956 but was a politician by vocation, winning his first elected position in 1965 and staying in office for most of the next 45 years.
He arguably reached his professional zenith with a plausible, if unlikely, bid for the presidency in 1996 as a moderate, pro-choice Republican.
He was famous for his 2009 switch of allegiance from the Republican party to the Democrat caucus. This handed President Obama’s party control of the Senate at a crucial juncture in the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Though not particularly observant, he was a proud member of the Jewish community and a strong supporter of Israel. Known as Snarlin’ Arlen, he was a resolute centrist who bemoaned the creeping extremism of US politics.