Robert Budd Dwyer (November 21, 1939 – January 22, 1987) was an American politician in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
He served from 1971 to 1981 as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania State Senate representing the state’s 50th district.
He served as the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania from January 20, 1981 to January 22, 1987.
On that day, Dwyer called a news conference in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg where he killed himself in front of the gathered reporters with a .357 caliber revolver.
Dwyer’s suicide was broadcast later that day to a wide television audience across the state of Pennsylvania.
In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania discovered its state workers had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in state withholding.
Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract to determine compensation to each employee. In 1986, Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from a California firm trying to gain the contract.
Throughout his trial and after his conviction, he maintained that he was innocent of the charge and that he had been framed.
Dwyer was scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987, the day after his suicide.
The prosecution’s primary witness, William T. Smith, whose testimony was largely used to obtain Dwyer’s conviction, later admitted in an interview shown in Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer that he (Smith) had lied under oath about Dwyer taking the bribe in order to receive a reduced sentence.
Dwyer graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the Beta Chi chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.
After earning a master’s degree in education, he taught social studies and coached football at Cambridge Springs High School.
A Republican, Dwyer became active in politics.
He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 6th district (although seats were apportioned by county prior to 1969) from 1965 to 1970. He also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from the 50th district from 1971 to 1981.
After his tenure as a state senator, Dwyer was elected state treasurer, a position he held from 1981 until his death in January 1987.
Since Dwyer died in office, his widow Joanne was able to collect full survivor benefits, totaling over $1.28 million. A spokesman for Dwyer suggested that he may have committed suicide to preserve the state-provided pension for his family, whose finances had been ruined by legal defense costs.
Other statements made by friends and family also posit that this is the case.
Dwyer was buried in Blooming Valley Cemetery in Blooming Valley, Pennsylvania, near his hometown of Meadville.
One year after her husband’s suicide, Joanne Dwyer moved from their home in Hershey to the Tempe, Arizona area with her son Robert and daughter Dyan.
She never married again. Joanne Dwyer remained in Tempe until her own death on Sunday, July 12, 2009, at the age of 70. Her body was buried next to her husband’s in Blooming Valley Cemetery.