Former State Rep. Jeff Pyle, 57, died on Wednesday in Ford City after a long battle with cancer.
A Ford City resident, Pyle was a former nine-term Republican state representative, Ford City mayor, and Ford City teacher. He is survived by his wife, Michele Pyle, and two daughters.
Pyle battled cancer since 2005, but remissions from the disease allowed him to serve as a state representative until last year, when he stepped down. He suffered a stroke a year before he retired.
Pyle made an appearance to speak at the groundbreaking of Butler County Community College in Ford City almost a year ago. Pyle rallied support and marshaled several million dollars to open up educational and career possibilities for area residents.
State Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who once shared an office in the state capitol with Pyle, praised his efforts in a statement.
“Every member who spent any amount of time with Jeff would be struck by his unwavering commitment to the trust given to him by the public, and his ability to lighten the mood and bring everyone together,” Cutler said.
State Rep. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana saw, in part, where Pyle got his fire to help area residents.
Pittman knew Pyle when he was a teacher at Ford City High School and when he was mayor, then as a legislator.
“His initial motivations were about protecting kids from drug dealers, that was his initial thrust,” Pittman said. “He took it personally when he saw dealers preying on those he taught, and he didn’t want them to fall as victims to such predators.”
Pittman described Pyle as an extremely hard worker who took great pride not only in his work but family and the work ethic of the people he represented.
“What you saw with Jeff in Armstrong County is what you saw with Jeff in Harrisburg,” Pittman said. “He was as authentic as it got.”
Pyle authored a number of bills that became law, including ones to clarify provisions for emergency medical personnel in underground mines, regulate unmanned aircraft for safety and privacy, and provide veterans with a veteran designation on their Pennsylvania driver’s license.
He chaired the House Gaming Oversight Committee and for a decade led the Second Amendment Caucus and Coal Caucus. He was a member of the State House’s committees on Environmental Resources & Energy, Liquor Control and others.
State Rep. Abby Major, R-Ford City, Pyle’s former chief of staff, succeeded Pyle when he retired. Pyle was larger than life and devoted to making his district a better place, she said.
“Jeff molded many young minds — including my own — as a teacher at Ford City High School,” Major said. “He will be sorely missed.
”There will never be another person like Jeff Pyle, but it’s been an honor to follow in his footsteps and serve the 60th District.”
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin, said, “While I know Jeff had been struggling for some time, he continued to display his characteristic strength, humor, wit, and joy for his family and collegiality and friendship from his fellow members.”
Education was important to Pyle, according to his two daughters, as the family includes four generations of teachers.
“My dad wrote to me and said to always try to push your toe out to find the edge and keep pushing yourself further,” said Lauren Pyle, 25, of Boston, Mass.
A lifelong focus for Pyle was helping others. Katie Pyle, 23, of Ashburn, Va., who is a teacher, said “Being an educator and a public servant is about teaching others to help themselves, and that was his big thing.”
Volunteering also loomed large for the family. Pyle was involved with the Leo Club, a high school service club affiliated with the Lions Club, which advocates leadership skills through volunteering.
“When we were little, we were always helping with projects and clean-ups,” Lauren Pyle said. Both daughters went on to become president of their high school Leo Club.
“I don’t think my dad did anything in moderation,” Lauren said. Pyle would retire to his family’s attic, his man cave, and write up his ideas and letters of recommendation for others, she said. “He gave 100% meticulously.”
Pyle claimed to be the only Pennsylvania legislator to receive an A+ rating from National Rifle Association for 16 consecutive years.
Katie Pyle was with her dad when he died. She tucked him in with a West Virginia University blanket, his alma mater, which the family made.
Then she played Pyle’s favorite music: “John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ was playing when it happened.
“There are a lot of country roads around here. That moment brought a lot of comfort that it was a good ending.”
Pyle’s funeral will be held privately with family.