A documentary about his father’s life — and tragic death — has brought some healing to Rob Dwyer, son of the late state Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer.
“It brought to light a lot of things,” said Dwyer in a recent telephone interview. It helped him because it showed how many times his father had helped somebody and touched the lives of others. “We sort of forget things (over time),” Rob said.
The film “Honest Man” changed that for Budd’s son. Besides viewing the 70-minute documentary privately, he has attended several public showings of the film and has visited with many of the viewers. The interviews presented in the film and interactions with the audiences brought Rob Dwyer’s many memories of his father back to life. “It helps to know people who knew him and what they thought of him,” he added.
The movie is a documentary about Budd Dwyer’s life, both personal and political, as well as his conviction of bribery charges which led to his self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound on Jan. 22, 1987, 24 years ago this week.
Dwyer was known by many, especially in his hometown Meadville area. He grew up here, graduated from Allegheny College, was affiliated with a widely respected local law firm, and made an impressive ascent to high levels of state politics.
In his final conversation at a Harrisburg press conference — before taking his own life as cameras were rolling and reporters looked on — Dwyer had asked for an investigation of his case and of the judicial system. The younger Dwyer agreed the major investigation his dad sought didn’t happen. He said his mother, Joanne Dwyer, tried to work on Budd’s requests, but it just became overwhelming and she “did not have the horsepower to be able to move forward.”
Rob said his mother’s efforts were based on his father’s plea at the news conference more than what may have been written in a note Budd left for his wife, which she opened later. In fact, Rob said he cannot recall specifically what the note to his mother said, but didn’t remember a request for any investigation written there.
Rob learned one major thing about the legal system from his father’s experience. His advice to others who find themselves in a similar situation is to “get aggressive,” referring to the need for being proactive in handling such matters.
“From the beginning, you really have to get on the defensive (if charges are pending),” he said. His father, contending he was innocent, did not take the matter as seriously as he should have or as quickly as he should have, Rob said. He remembers his dad telling him when the FBI came (to see Budd) he thought they were there to help him. “Get aggressive from the beginning,” he said, “because the government has unlimited resources to go after you.”
Rob and his sister, Dyan (Dee Dee), are among those interviewed in the film. And Rob voiced his approval of the final product.
In fact, he sees the movie as important to the entire Dwyer family. “It actually tells the true story of what happened,” said Rob. “It gives a true account without the drama,” he added, noting the public suicide “overshadowed what (his father) was trying to tell. The (film) is the true story of what Dad was trying to say.”
He was also pleased that filmmaker James Dirschberger was able to contact and have so many people discuss his father’s life and work, sharing poignant memories of “Dad and how many people he helped.”
Concerning advice for others who may contemplate suicide or who may have a loved one commit suicide, Dwyer said, “Suicide is not the answer to life’s problems.” At the same time, though, he added, “but everybody has his breaking point,” noting many people don’t realize that at the time of a loved one’s death.
Saying no to politics
Rob and his sister both now live in Arizona, where his mother also lived before her death in 2009. Although he grew up in a political family (his father was a state legislator when he was born), Rob has no desire to enter politics. He promised his wife he would never run for public office.
However, he and his wife, Jeanne, are involved politically, having hosted several fundraisers for candidates in their home at Scottsdale. Rob is employed in a real estate and development company. He has a step-daughter, Tayler, 19; and a son, Ross, 15. His wife is vice president of Chicago Title in Scottsdale.
Dyan is married to Frank Seaburg and they have a son, Logan, 12. She is employed as events coordinator for the city of Mesa. Scottsdale and Mesa are both large suburbs of Phoenix.
Rob said he and Dyan were in Meadville last month, traveling here after the Harrisburg showing of “Honest Man.” They came home to spread the ashes of his mother as she had requested. “It was very private, just the two of us,” he said.
He enjoyed his brief visit, recalling one favorite moment. He and his sister stopped at a florist’s shop. He made a purchase and handed his credit card to the clerk. She looked at the name and asked, “Are you Robbie Dwyer?,” calling him by his childhood nickname.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I taught you in the second grade,” said the clerk.
He was pleased she recognized him and they recalled memories of his childhood.
Although he has fond memories of his hometown, he has no intention of leaving Arizona, though, citing the sunny weather as one major reason.