MANCHESTER - Sen. John A. Durkin, 76, a longtime resident of Manchester and more recently of the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, passed away on Oct. 16, 2012. He battled dementia for the past few years.
Born March 29, 1936, in Brookfield, Mass., he was the youngest of four children. His parents believed that the highest calling in life was to become a priest and the second highest calling was to be an honest politician. Those who knew him best were not surprised that he chose politics.
Mr. Durkin held his first elective office - Brookfield Town Moderator - at the age of 18. Durkin attended the College of the Holy Cross through the U.S. Navy ROTC program and graduated in 1959. He also was a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in 1965.
Mr. Durkin was assistant attorney general of New Hampshire from 1966 to 1968 and state insurance commissioner from 1968 to 1973, during which time he frequently made headlines fighting insurance companies on behalf of consumers.
Durkin served as Democratic U.S. senator from New Hampshire from 1975 until 1980. Highlights of his Senate career included his work on energy independence, alternative energy sources and preserving Alaska lands for generations to come.
His election to the U.S. Senate was as colorful as his life. In November of 1974, he lost to Republican Louis Wyman by 355 votes. He demanded a recount, which resulted in his victory by 10 votes. Gov. Meldrim Thomson then certified Durkin as the winner. However, Wyman demanded another recount, in which he prevailed by only two votes.
The U.S. Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over elections, deadlocked on whether to seat Wyman for the 1975-1981 term. On Jan. 14, the Senate sent the matter to the Rules Committee, which returned 35 disputed points to the full Senate based on 3,000 questionable ballots.
After seven months of wrangling, which included six unsuccessful Democratic attempts to seat Durkin, Wyman proposed that he and Durkin run again in a special election. Durkin agreed, and the Senate declared the seat vacant on Aug. 8, 1975, pending the new election. The special election was held on Sept. 16 and Durkin won handily, defeating Wyman by over 27,000 votes ending what remains the longest vacancy following the most closely contested direct Senate election in history.
He is survived by his three children, Andrea of Louisville, Colo., John of Portsmouth and Sheilagh of South Berwick, Maine, their spouses, and four grandsons. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by two brothers, Joe and Larry, and his sister, Mary.
SERVICES: A service will be held at Arlington Cemetery later this year.
Donations can be made in his name to the
Published in Union Leader on Oct. 17, 2012