Raymond Philip Shafer, the son of David and Nina Shafer, was born in New Castle in March 1917. He was one of five siblings. His father was the pastor of the Central Christian Church on Long Avenue. In 1933, when Raymond was a teenager, his family relocated to Meadville where his father became pastor of a local church. Raymond was an excellent student and also attained the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts. After graduating from high school he attended the local Allegheny College. He went on to attend the Yale Law School, where he had several prominent classmates to include future Pennsylvania Governor William W. Scranton and U.S. President Gerald R. Ford.
In 1942 was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy, and went to serve on PT-boats in the South Pacific. He commanded PT-359 on numerous missions, and later was promoted to serve as the executive officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 27. While in charge of RON 27 he helped lead a series of daring missions during the fall of the Philippines in early 1945.
Following the war Shafer opened a law practice in Crawford County, and then served as the county District Attorney from 1948-1956. Shafer continued his rise and served in the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1959-1963. In 1962 his old friend and Yale classmate William “Bill” Scranton, a Republican running for the Pennsylvania Governor, tapped him to be his running mate. They won the November election and Shafer served as Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania from 1963-1967.
In November 1966 he succeeded Scranton and was elected as the 39th Governor of Pennsylvania – serving from 1967-1971. As Governor he is best known for reforming the state government by making changes, which he helped initiate while serving under Scranton, to the antiquated state constitution. He also merged several agencies to form the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), initiated a program to expand the state highways, provided state workers with greater freedoms to protest and strike, and established a host of anti-corruption laws. Shafer was known as a free spender on various state initiatives and to counter this he undertook efforts (though unsuccessfully) to establish the state’s first income tax, which brought him a measure of unpopularity.
After leaving office Shafer became a major figure in the national Republican Party. It seems he became a bit of a rival of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, which apparently prevented him from attainting greater heights. Shafer served as chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission, which issued a controversial report in March 1972 calling for the decriminalization of some aspects of marijuana use. Nixon basically rejected the findings, but many groups calling for the legalization of marijuana still cite the report today. He went on to serve as a special counsel to U.S. Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from 1974-1977.
Shafer soon returned to private life and was associated with law and accounting firms in Washington D.C. and back home in Meadville. He was involved with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and sought to develop increased economic and cultural relations with the communist country. He also served a stint as President of Allegheny College from 1985-1986 and continued to practice law until retiring for good in about 2000.
Shafer passed away in Meadville at the age of eighty-nine on Tuesday, December 12, 2006. Five days later a funeral service was held at Allegheny College and among the attendees were former Pennsylvania Governors William Scranton, Richard Thornburgh, and Tom Ridge. Shafer was then laid to rest with full military honors at St. John’s Cemetery in Union Township, Crawford County.
Shafer was back in the news, however unfortunately, in late 2012 when senseless vandals desecrated his gravesite. On the night of November 3, 2012, unknown persons dug down to the burial vault, damaged his gravestone/pillar, and spray painted anti-Shafer obscenities (in French) on a nearby church. Despite a reward the odd crime remains unsolved at this time.