By Pete Mazzaccaro
Fred Voigt, the long-time director of The Committee of Seventy and a decade’s-long resident of Chestnut Hill died on July 30 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 76.
During his lifetime, Voigt was one of the city’s most noted and respected political figures.
Voigt grew up in Longport N. J., a shore town south of Ventnor City that imbued in him a life-long love of the ocean. His father owned a restaurant in Longport called Edgewater where Voigt worked regularly up through law school. The experience made him a particularly good chef, his family said. His love of the ocean would later establish Rhode Island as a regular family vacation destination, where he enjoyed boating and fishing.
In addition to his skills as both a fisherman and a chef, Voigt was an avid gardener whose orchids won awards at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Voigt attended Valley Forge Military Academy and the University of Denver before receiving a law degree from Dickinson Law School. While a student at Dickinson, he met his wife, Patricia. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.
As a young lawyer in the early 70s, Voigt worked as a deputy city solicitor and then as an assistant district attorney under the late Sen. Arlen Specter, who was at the time the city’s DA.
In 1977, Voigt became the director of the Committee of 70, the city’s government watchdog organization that was founded in 1904. Voigt spent 30 years in charge of the Committee of Seventy, overseeing its mission to make voting as accessible and transparent as possible in order to ensure the best and most capable public servants are elected. In a city known for political corruption, Voigt was a tireless champion of holding the city’s political apparatus accountable.
During the last 10 years, Voigt worked as an attorney for the City Commissioner’s Office. He was recognized by City Council last year when he finally retired after a 50-year career
While Voigt kept a watchful eye on the city’s political machine, he built for himself and his family a life in Chestnut Hill. He and his wife Pat raised their two daughters, Carey and Sarah, in a West Willow Grove Avenue home next to St. Martin’s Station. Their neighbors for many years, Patricia told the Local, were the family of former Philadelphia Mayor William Green III, whose son, William Green IV, served as the head of the School Reform Commission and was elected to Philadelphia City Council.
Voigt made his home the site of one of the city’s most well-known, regular Christmas parties, which were attended by hundreds of people Voigt invited, from the city’s political class to the local Hill shopkeepers and other friends he had in Chestnut Hill.
Voigt’s most important relationship in Chestnut Hill, his wife said, was to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where he served as head of its church school at one point and was a regular head usher.
“He went every Sunday,” Patricia said. “He would always be a head usher on holidays, Easter and Christmas, and continued to do so right up until Covid.”
In addition to his membership at St. Paul’s., Voigt was involved in the St. Martins Lane Station Committee, a friends organization that made sure the station was well maintained. He paid special attention to the commuter tunnel under the tracks, which were a popular spot for teenaged gatherings and graffiti. Voigt would paint over graffiti and police the parties.
“Kids were always having parties down there, in the parking lot,” Patricia said. “He would go down and break up these gatherings. I was worried because he would go out in his bathrobe and he would start talking to them about where they went to school and who they were, and then he would just say, ‘Go home. It's too late.’”
After he left the Committee of 70 and after his retirement, Voigt remained keenly interested in the city’s elections. He was a fixture at his local polling place at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church at every election.
“He was always the first person to the polling place at St. Martin’s every election day,” Patricia said. “He would get there before any of the polls were open to make sure everything was okay and that the voting machines were in working order before he got on the train to go to work.”
Patricia said one of the more remarkable things to have happened after his death is the outpouring from those Voigt knew and touched in some way. Yes, there are plenty of well-known political figures in the city that knew him, but many young lawyers reached out to Patricia to tell her how much an early act of mentoring had guided them in their careers.
“After he died I got all these calls and messages from people who said, ‘Fred made all the difference in my career and the journey of my life,’ or ‘He encouraged me to be a lawyer,’ or, you know, ‘He mentored me for so many years,’” she said. “That was just wonderful to hear. It's really touching to know that he had helped a lot of people.”
In addition to his wife, Voigt is survived by daughters – Carey Dearnley and Sarah Savage – and three grandchildren, Mac Dearnley, AnnaLee Savage and Wyatt Savage.