Peter Terpeluk Jr., 63, influential Republican

Posted: August 25, 2011

WHEN TEXAS Gov. Rick Perry decided to seek the Republican presidential nomination, some of the credit for the decision belonged to a longtime Philadelphia-area public servant and national political figure named Peter Terpeluk Jr.

Terpeluk, a former ambassador to Luxembourg and former Republican National Committee finance chairman, was among a group of influential Republicans who helped persuade Perry to run.

In fact, Terpeluk was hurrying out of his home in Chevy Chase, Md., on Tuesday to catch a plane for Austin to meet with Perry when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was 63.

Among Terpeluk's many contributions to the Philadelphia region was his service as executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Economic Development Coalition. He worked with substantial success for economic cooperation between the city and suburbs, long divided by mutual suspicion.

Writing when Terpeluk took over the position in 1984, Inquirer reporter Peter Binzen said Terpeluk's job was to end "this cold war."

He brought to the job a firm conviction that regional cooperation was necessary for the economic well-being of both the city and suburbs.

"They call him 'Pistol Pete' and 'Peter the Terrible,' " Binzen wrote. "He wears fancy monogrammed shirts and silk suspenders, but never buys socks."

That's what colleagues at the Small Business Administration, of which he had been deputy administrator, said about Terpeluk at a number of "roasts" staged on his departure in 1984.

But it was true that Terpeluk always brought a driving energy and zeal to whatever he undertook.

"For him, everything was 100 percent," said longtime friend David F. Girard-diCarlo, Philadelphia lawyer, former chairman of SEPTA, lobbyist, ex-ambassador to Austria and GOP power broker.

"He had penetrating blue eyes," said Girard-diCarlo. "He truly stared at you, making his point. He had a larger-than-life personality."

Although they were both Republican activists, the two men sometimes differed on candidates. Girard-diCarlo is working for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for the GOP nomination.

Terpeluk was co-chairman of the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush in 1987, and of Bush's re-election campaign in 1992. He also worked in the election campaign of Bush's son, George W. Bush, in 2000.

"He had a great zest for life," said Terpeluk's wife of 25 years, Diane. "He had deep convictions. And he was a very loyal friend and amazing dad and husband."

Becoming ambassador to Luxembourg in 2002 was "probably the highlight of his career," his wife said. "He really enjoyed representing our country and building relationships.

"It was a fascinating experience. He felt very blessed. There are more than 5,000 American soldiers buried in Luxembourg, including George Patton. He never was prouder."

Terpeluk was born in Lafayette Hill to J. Peter Terpeluk Sr. and Catherine L. Terpeluk. He attended Malvern Preparatory School and received a bachelor's degree from LaSalle University. He earned a master's degree in public administration from Rider College, and later collected honorary degrees from LaSalle and Sacred Heart University.

He began his public service as manager of Lower Moreland Township in 1972. He became acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President Ronald Reagan in 1983. He had been Philadelphia regional administrator of the SBA from 1981.

Terpeluk founded the public-relations firm of Terpeluk and Associates in 1986, and was a principal in the Washington office of Wojdak and Associates until 1993.

He also served as co-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and as finance co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and was a lawyer for the Forum for International Policy.

After serving his ambassadorship, Terpeluk worked with the American Continental Group, a Washington lobbying firm, as counsel.

In July 2009, he was named chairman of the finance committee of the Republican National Committee. He served until the end of 2010.

Terpeluk was named to the board of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in 2007, at the same time former President George H.W. Bush was named to the board.

"Peter served his country and his party with distinction," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, J. Peter "Trey" Terpeluk III; a daughter, Meredith A. Terpeluk; a brother, Paul A. Terpeluk, and a sister, Patricia Lynn Terpeluk.

Services: Memorial Mass 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. Friends may call at 4 p.m. today at the Joseph Gawler's Sons funeral home in Washington.

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