Wilmington government flags were ordered flown at half-staff in memory of former Wilmington Mayor and Delaware Congressman Harry G. “Hal” Haskell, Jr.
Haskell, the son of a prominent duPont executive, died Thursday at the age of 98 at his home in Pennsylvania.
Haskell was elected in November of 1968 as a Republican in a predominately Democrat-controlled city and served one-term from 1969 to 1972.
Haskell, who was defeated for re-election by Democratic City Council Member Tom Maloney, was the last Republican to be elected Mayor of Wilmington.
Current Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said he and Haskell became fast friends when Purzycki was elected to office three years ago. “Hal was a dear, sweet and giving person,” said Purzycki. “Anyone who met Hal would immediately pick up on his sincerity, authenticity and how he cared deeply for people. He appreciated the struggles that people go through and that understanding guided his actions. He was a giant of a person who will be missed greatly. The people of Wilmington, and indeed all of Delaware, thank him for his public service.”
Haskell took office at a difficult time. The city was experiencing social unrest following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968.
Haskell took pride in the fact that he and newly elected Delaware Governor Russell W. Peterson decided that the National Guard, which had been enforcing a controversial citywide curfew, should be immediately removed from the city. The occupation was one of the longest during peacetime in American history.
During his time as Mayor, worked to heal the city and create jobs through public and private partnerships. Using his own money, he created Action Task Forces in neighborhoods around the city so he could learn from citizens about their needs needed city programs.
The task force effort led to, among other things, a more robust parks and recreation system for Wilmington with additional swimming pools.
Prior to serving as Mayor, Haskell was Delaware’s Congressman. Even though he served just one, two-year term from 1957 to 1959, Haskell, as a freshman member of the House, was responsible for the enactment of what is still in place today as the student loan program for the United States.
It was an idea Haskell developed a few years prior to being elected to Congress when he worked in the Office of Education in the Administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Haskell’s boss in the Office of Education was former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
Haskell’s focus on creating new opportunities for young people continued later in his life as he established the Delaware Futures program to help students achieve a college education. Delaware Futures helps at-risk, economically disadvantaged youth develop the social, academic and problem-solving skills they need to qualify for college and expand their opportunities.
Details regarding funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.