Joan L. Specter, former city councilwoman and wife of the late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, has died at the age of 90

Joan L. Specter, 90, former Philadelphia City Council member, entrepreneur, baker and wife of the late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, died Saturday, June 29, of complications from dementia at her home in the Quadrangle in Haverford.

Although she was widely known as the wife of Arlen Specter, who represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate for 30 years until his death in 2012, Mrs. Specter also had her own long career as a cook, teacher, writer, radio host and four-term member of the City Council.

“She had an incredibly varied and successful career,” said her son Shanin, a Philadelphia lawyer. “She was good at everything she did, whether it was culinary arts, business or government. She was very talented.”

Ms. Specter’s interest in the culinary arts began after college, when she studied with renowned chef James Beard in New York, at the Cordon Bleu in London and at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie. according to an obituary prepared by her family.

She studied food science at Drexel University, founded several cooking schools, hosted a food radio show and wrote a weekly food column for the Philadelphia Bulletin for 11 years.

Mrs. Specter, who baked the cakes at home, began supplying bakeries and upscale restaurants like The Palm, which led to wholesale distribution in 20 states and major supermarkets. The cakes were billed as “America’s first frozen gourmet cakes that require no baking, no decorating, no special preparation.”

After selling her business, Mrs. Specter, a Republican, ran for City Council in 1979 (providing a recipe for pineapple caramel cake on one of her campaign fliers). According to her family, she told the newspaper at the time, “My husband and I have always been active in politics, and after 15 years of watching people come to the front of the house and make speeches, I decided I had something to say, so I had to contribute.”

During her 16 years on the City Council, Ms. Specter focused on preschool, housing, child nutrition and the arts. She pushed through an ordinance that prohibited the city from doing business with companies that were members of private clubs that discriminated on the basis of race or sex, and she was one of the first women members of the once all-male Boathouse Row clubs.

“She would sit in her office and read the newspapers — out-of-town newspapers — and try to find out what was going on in cities all over the country and try to bring the latest innovations to the City Council,” said Shanin Specter. “Which was like trying to bring ice cubes to the beach… but she got a lot of things done.”

He said his mother was most proud of her efforts for equality for women and minorities. “She recognized that she worked in a city that was very diverse and that the city’s values ​​should reflect that population,” Shanin told Specter.

In a statement released Sunday, Council Speaker Kenyatta Johnson said: “Her legacy has left a lasting impact on the city of Philadelphia.”

Former Congressman Bob Brady served on the Council with Ms. Specter when he was a sergeant at arms. The Democrat said she was a uncommon ally across the political aisle who came to his defense as he began his political career. Her bakery was also located in his ward. “I kept going, but I had to stop because she would never charge me,” he said.

In 1996, Ms. Specter narrowly lost her re-election bid, finishing third behind incumbent W. Thacher Longstreth and Frank Rizzo Jr., the son of the city’s deceased mayor, in the race to fill two minority-party seats.

After her defeat, Clout’s column in the Philadelphia (*90*) News devoted an article to finding a recent job for the “stylish Republican councilwoman.” A 1996 column described her as someone who introduced “legislation that was ignored by Democrats but sometimes later passed and generally conducted herself in a dignified manner despite ridicule from dim-witted members of the majority party.”

After leaving the City Council, Ms. Specter worked as the Director of Leadership Giving at the National Constitution Center and served on the board of the Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research and the Children’s Literacy Initiative.

Joan Levy was born in 1934 in Philadelphia, where she grew up in the Hill Creek housing project in Lawncrest. She graduated from Olney High School, where she was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. While still in high school in 1949, she met Arlen Specter at a fraternity party at the University of Pennsylvania. They married four years later and remained together until the senator’s death in 2012.

Ms Specter was faithful to her Jewish faith and had a passion for fitness: she was a runner and later a rower before settling on golf, which she played until she was 80.

On the Washington Post profile quoted by the familyshe thought, “I’ve had a great life. I’ve always been able to do anything I ever wanted. I’ve always known what I wanted to do.”

In addition to her son Shanin, Mrs Specter is survived by another son, Steve; a brother, Barry Levy; and four granddaughters.

A celebration of her life will be held on Tuesday, July 2, at 12:30 p.m. at the Har Zion Temple, 1500 Hagys Ford Rd., Penn Valley, Pa.

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