William Albert Gannon

February 19, 2024

William A. Gannon

William A. Gannon

The 77 years of William Albert Gannon’s inspiring and productive life will be celebrated in his hometown of Wyalusing, on Saturday, March 2 in his boyhood church. Bill, who died at his Harrisburg home, on Feb. 19, 2024, grew up in Wyalusing, the son of loving parents, Max P. and Eleanor Whiteley Gannon, and was educated in the schools that his father administered as supervising principal and ultimately district superintendent.

He often recalled those years as an idyllic childhood and always made it a point to attend the reunions of the Wyalusing Valley High School Class of 1965. He is still remembered for his loyalty to friends and family and a sense of humor that was uniquely his.

After graduating from high school and heading off to college with aspirations of becoming an art teacher, his life would change dramatically on Dec. 30, 1965, during the Christmas break of his freshman year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). He was a passenger in a car returning from a high school basketball game on a slippery road and barely two miles from home, when the car left the road, almost claiming his life in the crash. He survived but awakened to learn that he was paralyzed from the chest down, a paraplegic, and that he faced months of rehabilitation before he could return to the pursuit of whatever life awaited him.

He returned to IUP in a wheelchair the following fall but discovered it was not handicapped- accessible and transferred to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. He changed his major to psychology and graduated in the spring of 1971, determined to do something for physically disabled people like himself.

First, after earning his bachelor’s degree, he needed a job, and was hired as a planner with the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission (NTRPDC). Two years later, in 1973, he was hired as Executive Director of SERVE, Inc. SERVE provided— and still does—community integration services to people with disabilities.

It was there that he came to realize that government at all levels was deficient in providing access to disabled people who had skills to offer. It wasn’t just the disabled for whom he was concerned. It was average people in places like Wyalusing who felt that government was more of a hindrance than a help. He decided that public service was the way to go, and that meant entering a world few people confined to wheelchairs dared to enter.

From County Commissioner to

Serving Pennsylvania’s Disabled

In 1975, with his brother, Max, and friend, Tom Abell, he went on the demanding campaign trail. The result was an election victory for Bradford County Commissioner and his first four-year term in office in 1976. Voters returned him to office two more times until completing his third term in 1988. His years as county commissioner made him one of the most recognizable figures in the region. As is often the case in politics, there were heated debates and challenging elections, but Bill was known to strongly state his opinions and stick to his guns when he believed he was right and what was best for his constituents.

As a county commissioner, he served on state and regional councils and committees, including as chairman of the State Health Coordinating Council; member of both the Pennsylvania and National Associations of County Commissioners; chairman of the Northern Tier Area Agency on Aging; vice chair of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council; president of the NY-Penn Health Planning Council; chairman of the Pennsylvania Accessibility Advisory Board, and numerous other affiliations over the years during and after his years as commissioner

After 12 years of local politics and county government, Bill spent about six years in the private sector as a manager for Gannon Associates Insurance, before public service called again—this time from Gov. Tom Ridge in 1995 where he was asked to serve in the Department of Public Welfare as Deputy Secretary of the Office of Social Programs. He continued with Gov. Ridge’s Republican successor, Mark Schweiker, as policy director of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

When Democrat Ed Rendell was elected governor, Bill became executive director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation from which “he directed the provision of vocational rehabilitation services to Pennsylvanians with disabilities.” He served in that capacity until his retirement from public service in 2011.

During his 16 years in Harrisburg, he and his wife, Kathy, moved from Bradford County to the Harrisburg area where they resided until his death. During his years of retirement, Bill dealt with various serious health issues and survived them all, humor intact. Not long into his retirement, he was able to conquer the intrusion of cancer due to a successful bone marrow transplant in the fall of 2013, thanks to a young woman from Oregon named Courtney Johnsen, who turned out to be a perfect match. He subsequently invited Courtney and her family to Harrisburg for a joyful celebration. That miracle added another decade to his life.

Bill is survived by his wife Kathleen to whom he was married for more than 30 years, and the following children from his two blended families: Krista Gannon Caverly, Alan Brockway, Jennifer Neill and Kate Ruddick Young. He is also survived by his sister, Catherine Gannon of Endicott, NY; sister and brother-in-law, Mary Skillings (Wes) of Wyalusing, and brother and sister-in-law, Max P., Jr. (Maureen) of Athens. His surviving nieces and nephews are Mark Gannon, Cyndie Gannon Cooper, Pamela Skillings (Andre), Jeremy Skillings and Genel Depuysselier.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, at the Wyalusing United Methodist Church, where Bill remained a member. Condolences may be offered to family members in the sanctuary from 9:30-11 a.m. A luncheon will be held immediately after the funeral with the location to be announced at the ceremony. All attendees are invited to attend and share memories of Bill there, as well as at the funeral itself.

Memorials in his name may go through the Wyalusing Area Education Foundation, PO Box 204, Wyalusing, PA 18853 for scholarships to Wyalusing Valley High School graduates seeking college degrees pertaining to vocational rehabilitation and/or physical therapy. Donations may also be made to SERVE, Inc., Monroeton Road U.S. 220, Monroeton, PA 18832 in Bill’s name.

One response to “William Albert Gannon”

  1. Linda C English says:

    My sincere condolences to a very special man. My thoughts are with all of you.

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