Shouts of “don’t Budd don’t” can be heard in the opening scene of a documentary, “Honest Man,” about the life of the late state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer as Dwyer pulls out a gun with the intent of shooting himself.
The shouts were those of the press and staffers at a press conference where Dwyer was expected to resign –– but instead fatally shot himself. His death was captured on video.
Dwyer had been convicted in Dec. 1986 of agreeing to accept a bribe of $300,000. He was to be sentenced on Jan. 23, 1987 –– one day after his death.
The brief opening scene soon changes as the film, directed and produced by James Dirschberger, changes course to review the life of Dwyer –– not just the final moments 24 years ago.
Told through the words of many who knew and worked with Dwyer, the story and images portray how Dwyer grew up in Blooming Valley, was a Problems of Democracy teacher, went to Poland as a community ambassador, returned to marry his wife, Joanne, and then captured his life as a public official, from the time he was elected state representative to his rise to the position of state treasurer.
It showed Dwyer as he rode a horse as a young boy on a farm in Blooming Valley and with his sister, Mary. His intent to be a teacher changed when he returned from Poland. He went into public service to ensure America continued as a Democracy.
He was a student teacher for Fred McKillop, who tells how Dwyer told him he was going to run for state representative. He asked McKillop to be his campaign tanager. McKillop tells of knowing nothing about running a campaign, but agreed.
McKillop noted Dwyer wouldn’t ask anyone for money. He conducted a “person to person” campaign, giving matches to the men and nail files to the women as promotions.
Although a serious documentary, the movie contains many moments of laughter. Laughter was heard from among the approximate 175 who attended the first of two showings Saturday night at Allegheny College’s Vukovich Theater. Dwyer’s son, Rob, in the film tells how once a year his father would “whip out the slides,” referring to his father’s Poland trip. He wanted everyone to remember the difference between America and Poland’s government.
He wanted to bring a “better sense of justice,” said McKillip about Dwyer’s reason to run for public office. His wife, Joanne, recalled when they won the first campaign, he turned to her and said, “What do we do now?” “I guess we go to Harrisburg,” she answered.
In his inauguration as state treasurer, he is seening taking his oath and in his speech noted, “Only in America could a kid from Blooming Valley,” with no political base, no political legacy,” be elected to a statewide office. “If it can happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” he said.
Others interviewed in the film were Roy Wilt, who succeeded Dwyer into the Senate; Vince Yakowicz, deputy legal counsel for the treasurer’s office; as well as Rob and Dyan Dwyer, Dwyer’s children; James West, the prosecutor; and others.
All told their memories of Dwyer and why they believed he was an innocent victim of the system.
The story is being told as a means to educate the public about Dwyer and what all he went through. It contains many pictures and interviews, as well as some clippings and some portions of a journal Dwyer kept..
One key witness, William Smith, told of his testimony against Dwyer in which he wept on the stand as he testified about the allged bribe. He told how he was threatened with an indictment of his wife and a death threat against his son if he didn’t testify againt Dwyer. He said he regrets what he did every day of his life.
As the story continues about Dwyer’s legal problems, it began to take a toll on Dwyer. He kept a journal and typed on a manual typewriter daily, outlining what was happening and the injustices. His wife noted that after he was found guilty, she said they would appeal. Citing the cost of an attorney, he decided against it.
Instead he appealed to others in the sytem for help, but received none.
Yakowicz told of telling Dwyer that he would lose his pension once he was sentenced. He wonders today whether if he had lied and told him that wouldn’t happen if Dwyer would still be alive.
Yakowicz recalls hearing of Dwyer’s death, calling prosecutor West and telling him “you guys murdered my friend, Budd Dwyer.”
West replied that had he thought Dwyer was going to kill himself he would have tried to get Dwyer’s bail revoked so he would have been somewhere where he could not hurt himself.
Dwyer’s children told about hearing about their dad’s death on the radio and their reactions. Rob said he wanted to have his father remembered for what he did during his life, not just committing suicide. They both also told of fond rememberances of their father and what a great father he was.
Dwyer’s wife said that had Budd just taken sleeping pills he would not be remembered. He wanted people to not just remember his death, but to work to change the judicial system so this could not happen to another innocent person.
The interviews and stories are poignant and very dramatic as different ones told of their reactions and what they would like to see done. Dwyer’s wife said she hoped somebody would do an investigation and vindicate her husband before she died. That didn’t happen as she died in 2009.
Yakowicz, who had worked in government for 30 years, said Dwyer was the “most honest” man he had met in government. He resigned after Dwyer’s death, noting he would not give government “one more day.”
Dwyer’s last entry in his journal told of his intent. “Tomorrow is going to be difficult. I hope I can go through with it.”
Prior to taking his own life, he asked for an investigation of the judical system. His words on his inauguration day were heard after his conviction, referring to if it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody.
The intent of the film is to bring awareness as to what happened to Dwyer, why it happend and to try to change the judicial system.
Proceeds from the shows will be contributed to the R. Budd Dwyer Scholarship Fund. In that way, officials noted, “Budd is still teaching.”
INSIDE THE TRIBUNE: Family, locals remember Dwyer in Q&A session