Daniel J. McKenna Jr., 81, retired press aide to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter

Posted: January 29, 2014

THE CONTRAST in personalities between the two men seemed impassable.

How could these guys get along, one might have been tempted to ask.

There was Dan McKenna, the jovial, outgoing Irishman, and there was Arlen Specter, the longtime U.S. senator with a reserved demeanor, always careful with his public utterances.

Dan was Specter's press aide for 14 years, and according to everybody who worked with them, their relationship was a mutual admiration society if there ever was one.

"I think they balanced each other," said Susan Lamontagne, who also worked as a Specter press aide, much of the time with Dan. "Arlen really loved him."

In fact, it was obvious to everybody who came in contact with the two men that the contrasting personalities had a mutual benefit.

"Dan thought highly of Specter," said Dan's wife, the former Sandy Fraser. "He never said anything bad about him. I think the contrast was a good thing."

Daniel J. McKenna Jr., who also had been a prize-winning reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin, a city official in the Rizzo administration and an Army veteran of the Korean War, died Sunday after a fall at his Moorestown, N.J., home. He was 81.

Dan, who had been having trouble walking, was preparing to go to a party when he lost his balance on stairs and fell backward. He suffered a broken pelvis and wrist.

"I think his heart just gave out from the shock," said his son, Daniel J. McKenna III. "He had fallen before in the past few years, but he was a very vigorous person. He and Sandy liked to travel. They had just gone to Florida in October."

About the relationship between his dad and Specter, Dan, an assignment editor for 6ABC, said, "They had a fondness and respect for each other."

He said his father was a "true-blue Irishman" who liked to sing Irish songs - "Danny Boy" was his favorite. "He was gregarious; he was liked by everybody. He could light up a room," the son said.

Dan McKenna was born in a taxi on Feb. 11, 1932, as his mother, Winifred, was being rushed to the hospital. It seemed that Dan couldn't wait to see the world.

He graduated from Roman Catholic High School in 1950 and went on to La Salle College, now La Salle University, from which he graduated in 1955.

He entered the Army shortly after college and served in Korea.

In the late '50s, he went to work for the Bulletin as a reporter. He received the Philadelphia Press Association's Golden Typewriter Award for a story he wrote about his experiences posing as a teacher at a juvenile-detention facility.

He joined Mayor Frank Rizzo's administration in 1972 and served the former police commissioner for eight years, as deputy city representative and deputy managing director.

When Arlen Specter made his first bid for the Senate in 1980, Dan McKenna worked in his campaign. He stayed on as Specter's press secretary and moved to Washington, D.C.

He retired in 1994. Specter died in October 2012 at age 82.

"Dan was the best of the best," said Lamontagne, who now runs a public-interest-consulting firm. "He was so good to everybody. He was the office teddy bear."

A devoted Catholic, Dan went to Mass nearly every day. "He invited me to go along," Susan said, "but I turned him down. He said, 'I'll pray for you.' He always said he needed to go."

Susan said Dan held onto his typewriter from his reporting days to write news releases. He never used a computer.

"He was one of the most comical guys I ever met," said Tom Madine, who worked as an executive assistant to Specter. "Nothing ever bothered him.

Dan was a die-hard Notre Dame football fan. He watched all the games, read about the team and discussed games, said his son.

"He was a kind and loving father to me," his son said.

Dan married Sandy Fraser in 1980. An earlier marriage to Regina McKenna ended in divorce.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by two daughters, Jeanmarie Hopely and Elaine McKenna, and three grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Good Counsel, 42 W. Main St., Moorestown, N.J. Friends may call at 7 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 a.m. Friday at Snover Givnish Funeral Home, 1200 Route 130 North, Cinnaminson, N.J. Entombment will be at Lakeview Mausoleum in Cinnaminson.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Wounded Warriors Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675.

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