Du Pont Family Heir and Former Delaware Governor Dies at 86

Pierre du Pont IV ran for president in 1988

Pierre S. Iv Du Pont
Pierre S. Du Pont IV. Photo: William Foley/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Former two-term Delaware Gov. Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont IV, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, died Saturday following a lengthy illness, his former chief of staff announced. He was 86.

Heir of the multibillion-dollar du Ponts, he forged his political career after working for his family's eponymous chemical company.

In a break with tradition, du Pont left his role as a quality control supervisor at the DuPont Co. in 1968 to launch his first campaign.

He later spoke about his decision to leave his family's business in a 1988 interview with The Washington Post.

"You begin to realize that in an enormous company — and I had lots of good opportunities there — but in an enormous company like that, the chance of being in charge and leading really is 30 years away. That's a long horizon," he told the Post.

A Republican, du Pont won his first campaign for the Delaware state House after running unopposed and then moved to Congress, serving three terms as a U.S. representative from 1971 to 1977.

That year, he won his campaign for governor, defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Sherman Tribbitt. He served from 1977 to 1985.

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By 1986, du Pont's aspirations had outgrown Delaware and he launched a longshot bid for the GOP presidential nomination (the same year another politician from the state, Joe Biden, sought his own party's bid for the office).

Du Pont ended his bid for president 17 months later, following poor finishes in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

Throughout his career, he was known for staking out some controversial positions, such as on drug control — advocating that high school students be subject to random drug tests — and for proposing that the Social Security system be augmented with a private investment plan.

But he also worked to remodel Delaware's image, turning it into a corporate tax haven by introducing cuts and deregulation to woo banks to relocate to the state.

Of all his professional accomplishments, du Pont told the Post in 1988 he was most proud of his time as governor: "Other than getting married and so forth, being governor was the best life decision that I've ever made."

In a tweet responding to the news, Delaware's current governor, John Carney, called du Pont "a good and decent man who loved Delaware."

"Working with members of the General Assembly, he signed legislation that helped create the financial services industry in our state, which continues to employ thousands of Delawareans," Carney said.

Du Pont married wife Elise (heir to the Wawa dairy-company-turned-gas station chain) in 1957 and the two had four children: Elise, Pierre, Ben and Eleuthera.

According to the Post's 1988 profile, du Pont's early life was similarly privileged, attending Exeter, Princeton University and Harvard Law School and sailing in both the Olympic and America's Cup trials.

Even the newspaper's physical description of the scion evoked that of the kind of pricey vessel only spotted at a members-only country club: "To know that he is the apotheosis of prep, you need only see the chin, which moves with the laborious dignity of a backhoe ... The nose itself is big, strong, but straight as string, and the planes of his long, long face might be whittled of wood: cedar, or teak — some nice, warm wood such as they use in the making of yachts."

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