Former Gov. Pete du Pont dies at 86
WILMINGTON – Former Gov. Pierre Samuel “Pete” du Pont IV, who spearheaded Delaware’s landmark 1981 Financial Center Development Act that convinced many of the nation’s largest banks to move operations to the First State, died Saturday at age 86 after a long illness, his family announced.
A scion of the famed du Pont family, the two-term governor was the son of Pierre S. du Pont III, a DuPont company executive, and the great nephew of Pierre S. du Pont, who served as president of both DuPont and General Motors while also founding Longwood Gardens.
Like many in the family, Pete worked for a time at DuPont before striking out in a career of public service. In 1968, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and two years later successfully won the race for Delaware’s lone congressional House seat as a Republican.
Du Pont would serve three terms in Congress before turning his sights back to his home state and running for governor in 1976, defeating Democratic incumbent Sherman Tribbitt. He would serve two terms as governor from 1977 to 1985, working with a Democratic-majority state legislature to pass two income tax cuts and measures to restrain state spending.
It was his push to cut back interest rate regulations to compete against a similar push by South Dakota in 1981 that would cement his legacy though. The Financial Center Development Act, passed with bipartisan support, aimed to help create at least 1,000 new jobs in financial services in Delaware.
Over the succeeding decades, it has been credited with creating tens of thousands of jobs, spurring the growth of MBNA, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Discover, Capital One, Barclays, and more, largely in downtown Wilmington.
In many ways, that job growth helped protect Delaware against the eventual decline of workforces tied to his family’s company, DuPont, which for generations had been the biggest economic driver in the state.
Du Pont made a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, the same year that then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden also failed to win the Democratic nomination.
Aside from politics, du Pont was active in nonprofit and philanthropic work. In 1979, he founded Jobs for Delaware Graduates, an employment counseling and job placement program for high school seniors not bound for college.
The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation was also founded in 2017 in the former governor’s honor and supports innovation in public policy and economic development. Today it is chaired by his son, Thère du Pont.
On Saturday evening, the foundation released the following statement:
“While the news of Governor du Pont’s passing was not unexpected, all those at the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation are deeply saddened by this great loss. For a shining moment in Delaware’s history, the State had a great leader and a steadfast friend. Pete du Pont possessed clear vision, buoyant enthusiasm and a fascination for innovative approaches to old problems. When the du Pont Administration began, rancor and confrontation were commonplace. Delaware faced enormous challenges, including a financial structure that drove employers away at the very time that good jobs were critical to our future. State government spent more than it could afford; tax increases were the solution of choice for prior administrations; and no one had a plan to attract jobs and rebuild the economy. Pete changed all that by winning the confidence, even affection, of former political opponents. With that cultural change in Dover and with critical support from the loyal opposition, he forged consensus about Constitutional financial reforms and tax reductions. More remarkable, Governor du Pont spotted opportunity in the Nation’s hodge-podge of bank laws, positioning Delaware as a center for the credit card industry. No single piece of legislation has had more immediate or significant impact on Delaware’s economy. Beyond these specific accomplishments, Pete demonstrated that good will, humor and a genuine sense of neighborliness, coupled with clear vision, can transform a State. Those values are in short supply these days, making Pete du Pont’s passing yet more noteworthy. Delaware will miss its good friend, Pete du Pont. The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation exists to preserve that legacy by honoring the Governor’s accomplishments while creating enthusiasm for innovation that can nurture our future.
Du Pont is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Elise, and their four children, Elise du Pont Zoller and her husband, Preston; Pierre S. du Pont V and his wife, Jenny; Benjamin Franklin du Pont and his wife, Laura; Éleuthère I. du Pont (“Thère”) and his wife, Darla; and 10 grandchildren. In addition, du Pont is survived by his sister, Michele Goss.
Due to the pandemic, a memorial service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Frontotemporal Disorders Unit at Mass General Hospital, Dr. Dickerson’s lab: https://Giving.MassGeneral.org/FTDUnit and the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, https://www.petedupontfreedomfoundation.org