phil fatica

"Honest Man": The Life and Death of a Pennsylvania politician

“Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer” is the next installment of the Guelcher Film Series.

The film follows the life and death of Pennsylvania politician Robert Budd Dwyer ®, who was driven to suicide because of an impending trial in which he was charged with accepting a bribe.

“Honest Man” took four years to make and tells a story that went untold for 24 years.

The most interesting aspect of this film is how close it hits to home. Dwyer graduated from Allegheny College. He then taught social studies and coached football at Cambridge Springs High School. He was raised in Meadville, a short 30-minute drive from Erie. Dwyer served in the House of Representatives and the State Senate before becoming State Treasurer, a position he maintained until his death.

The picture above show Dwyer moments before his suicide in 1987, which he committed at a televised press conference the day before his sentencing, where he read these words:

“I’ve repeatedly said that I’m not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I’ve made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning–in the coming months and years, the development of a true justice system here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to…see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don’t want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDee–I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Good bye to you all on the count of three. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.”

As witnesses tried to get him to put the gun down, he put the gun in his mouth and shot himself.

He had been found guilty the previous day, and could face up to 55 years in prison with a $300,000 fine. Throughout the trial and up to the last moments of his life, Dwyer proclaimed and protested his innocence, and as can be seen from the statement above, hoped his death would motivate changes in the justice system in the U.S.

“Honest Man” is being shown tomorrow at 2:15 and 7:15 p.m.

Following the film at 7:15 p.m., a panel discussion will be held. On the panel are local newsmen Lou Baxter, Frank Rizzone and Phil Fatica; William Keisling, the author of “Sins of our Fathers,” which told the story of Budd Dwyer; and Mercyhurst College Communication professor Dennis Lebec.

The film is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and free for Mercyhurst students with ID.