As department adjutant for four decades, Richard M. Pedro was a longtime American Legion leader in New York. But that influence didn't stop at the state line.
Pedro – who passed away Jan. 10 at age 87 – was one of the Legion's top national leaders for years, enough so that the membership voted to bestow upon him the title of honorary past national commander during the 2012 National Convention in Indianapolis.
"I really thought he deserved that honor, and I was proud to stand alongside him as a past national commander," said Past National Commander Jake Comer, who had been friends with Pedro for more than 30 years. "Beyond New York, his leadership spanned the national American Legion, as far as advancing people, moving them forward, mentoring them. He truly deserved that honor as past national commander."
A World War II U.S. Navy veteran and 68-year member of Post 401 in Tioga, N.Y., Pedro took over as acting department adjutant in 1984, became the permanent adjutant two months later and served in that position until retiring last July. Upon his retirement, the department passed a resolution naming Pedro "'Department Adjutant Emeritus' with all the rights and privileges that such an honor entails for his dedicated and unselfish service to his community, state (and) nation."
Robert Morrill – longtime chairman of the national Public Relations Commission, a past department commander and a Department of New York finance director for years – met Pedro in 1978 during Morrill's first department convention. Morrill was one of six people from his county who voted for a candidate running for department commander and supported by Pedro. The candidate won – by six votes.
"Years after that, Dick could always name the six who voted that way," Morrill said. "That was the start of our friendship. He saw fit to help me along, and he gave me opportunities that I'm not sure I'd have gotten otherwise."
"But it was more than just a friendship, and he was more than a mentor to me. I grew up without a father, and he was like a father to me."
In addition to working for IBM in manufacturing and engineering for 33 years, Pedro found time to serve as department commander, as Alternate and National Executive Committeeman, and on various commissions and committees.
Comer and Pedro stayed fast friends, despite being at opposite ends of the baseball spectrum – Pedro was a New York Yankees fan, Comer a Boston Red Sox follower.
"I learned a lot from him – especially how he handled people," Comer said. "He was a true gentleman, and when he said something you could take it to the bank."
North Carolina National Executive Committeeman Jerry Hedrick presented Pedro with a plaque during his national commander ceremony in 2012. "These plaques are usually given to men who are about to do great things, but you have already done great things, a lifetime full of great things for your fellow veterans, your country and The American Legion," Hedrick told Pedro at the time. "We know that you will continue to serve The American Legion, and all of us will continue to be far better because of it."