Former Governor Thomas Meskill dead at 79

Former Gov. and U.S. Rep. Thomas J.Meskill died early Monday in Florida, his wife said. He was 79. He had the blood disorder myelodysplasia and had gone to theBethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., on Sunday tohave blood drawn. Mary Meskill, his wife of 52 years, said he diedof a heart attack at the hospital about 4 a.m. Thomas Meskill, a Republican, was governor from 1971 to 1975. In a brief phone interview from her home in Delray Beach, Fla.,Mary Meskill said she was too distraught to answer questions. "We're grieving," she said. Asked about her husband's life, she said, "He was a powerhouse.That we know." Mary Meskill said a funeral has not been scheduled, but it willbe held in Meskill's hometown of New Britain. He first ran for office in 1958, when he made an unsuccessfulbid for the state Senate. The following year, he ran for mayor andnarrowly lost. Meskill won in 1962 and served as mayor until 1964. He was elected to Congress representing the 6th District in 1966and served until 1970. He was elected governor in 1971. When he entered office, thestate had a $260 million deficit. By 1973, the deficit had beenerased and the state treasury had a surplus of $65 million. During Meskill's tenure, the Department of EnvironmentalProtection was established and a state lottery system wasinstituted as Meskill's alternative to a state income tax. In 1975, President Gerald Ford named him a judge on the U.S.Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and he served until 1993.During his last year on the bench, Meskill was chief judge. Former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, a friend of Meskill's, said hetranscended politics and connected with all of those he served. "It was a trust that he engendered in people and the quality ofservice that he provided that enabled him to be mayor and thencongressman and then ultimately governor and judge," she said."That is a quality that in today's world people are longing for." House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said Meskill waswell-respected at the Capitol, even though he had left office yearsago. "I can tell you that I never heard anything negative aboutGovernor Meskill," he said. "He was a good leader and managedthis state very well." New London Superior Court Judge Robert Leuba, who was legalcounsel to Meskill from 1973 to 1975, said Meskill brought aboutpension reform, requiring companies to set aside money to guardagainst pension losses in case of bankruptcies. He also creditedMeskill with establishing one of the first state environmentalprotection agencies in the U.S. "He brought more advancements to Connecticut than people willever know," Leuba said.