Specter, who was Jewish, died from complicated related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his son, Shanin. Specter had a long history of battling cancer; he was treated for a brain tumor during the 1990s and, in 2005, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Specter rose to prominence during the 1960s as an aggressive Philadelphia prosecutor and member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the death of President Kennedy. He is credited with helping to develop the “single bullet theory.” The theory, which remains controversial today, posited that a single bullet fired by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President Kennedy and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally.
Later, serving in the Senate from 1981-2011, Specter was known for his fierce independence and high-profile role as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He often angered people on both sides of the aisle, including Republicans over issues such affirmative action, gay-rights and abortion, and Democrats over his tough questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
“Senator Specter has left behind a proud legacy of public service that will hopefully guide future generations of public servants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike,” the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said in a statement.
Republican Jewish Coalition National Chairman David Flaum called Specter “a devoted public servant with a great passion for justice,” noting in a statement that Specter “was a staunch supporter of Israel in the U.S. Senate and during his tenure led efforts to expand and enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Specter was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1930 to a Jewish immigrant family from Ukraine. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University and served stateside during the Korean War, obtaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. During college at the University of Pennsylvania, Specter said in an interview with the Penn Current that his family moved to Philadelphia from Kansas because there were no Jews for his sister to marry there.
“We were living in Russell, Kansas, a little town of 5,000 people, and when my sister Shirley was of a marriageable age, there was only one Jewish boy in town and that was me, her brother,” he said. “So the family moved to Philadelphia so she could meet and marry a fine Jewish boy and raise a fine Jewish family, which she did.”