Mary Jane Strickler Leader, 92, wife of former Pennsylvania Gov. George M. Leader, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Tuesday, March 15, at home in Hershey, Pa.
While her husband led the state from 1955 to 1959, Mrs. Leader cared for four children, the youngest born while he was in office; performed the duties of the governor's wife; ran three homes; and operated the family's poultry business.
"She cried when he told her he was going to run for governor," daughter Jane Janeczek said, "because she knew he was going to be away from home so much, but she rose to the challenge."
When Leader, a Democrat, was elected after a term in the state Senate, the governor's mansion in Harrisburg was in such disrepair, it was used only for ceremonial events. The family lived in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., and twice a week Mrs. Leader drove to its 28-acre Willow Brook Farms in York County to check on the hens and chicks. When she and her husband purchased the farm in 1948, she told The Inquirer in 1955, "we took up linoleum, refinished floors ourselves, as well as hanging kitchen cabinets and painting rooms."
She and her husband gave up the poultry business in the 1950s. After Leader left office, the family lived in Gladwyne and King of Prussia. During this time, the couple founded two health-care companies, Leader Nursing Centers and Country Meadows Retirement Communities.
Mrs. Leader, a licensed nursing-home administrator, served in management and as director of the family enterprises until her death.
She served several terms on the Pennsylvania Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators and served on the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. A son, Fred, was born with a serious eye disorder and was blind from childhood.
In 1983, Mrs. Leader and her husband moved to a 80-acre farm in Hummelstown, Pa. She built a picnic pavilion on the property, where she entertained family and let charities hold fund-raising events.
Her husband bought her an old carousel and had it refurbished and installed in the pavilion. "She called it her Jaguar," their daughter said.
Mrs. Leader and her husband moved to a Country Meadows Retirement Community in Hershey three years ago.
The couple, who began dating at 15, graduated from William Penn High School in York, Pa., and attended St. Luke's Lutheran Church in York. Mrs. Leader worked for the phone company in York before marrying in 1939.
In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Leader is survived by sons Michael and David, a brother, 12 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. Fred Leader died in 2003.
Friends may call from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, March 18, at the Hoover Funeral Home, Route 422 and Lucy Avenue, Hershey. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 19, at Derry Presbyterian Church, 248 E. Derry Rd., Hershey. Gov. Corbett has ordered that flags over the state Capitol be flown at half-staff Saturday in Mrs. Leader's honor.