As the daughter of an elected official, I was used to joining my father at all different kinds of political and civic events. Fundraisers, parades and county fairs were among the many functions I attended growing up in northeast Pennsylvania.
I learned at an early age that politics was a contact sport — especially when your father is a Republican seeking votes in the birthplace of popular Democrats like Governor Robert Casey. I quickly came to realize that not everyone loved my dad like I did — and they weren’t afraid to make that known. A thick skin and a short memory were prerequisites.
I soon discovered that not all of these events we attended were created equal. I was just 18 when my father took me to New York for my first Pennsylvania Society dinner. The annual gathering, which dates back to 1899 and is held at the grand Waldorf Astoria hotel in early December, brought political, business and civic leaders together from all regions of Pennsylvania with the purpose of celebrating and honoring good works done by fellow Pennsylvanians. It also emphasizes charity and community. Governors, senators, lobbyists and captains of industry all attend.
The real beauty of PA Society weekend is that civil and respectful conversation isn't just commonplace — it is expected. Angry barbs and hateful rhetoric are replaced with a welcoming smile and a handshake, or even a hug, if you can imagine that!
PA Society is an event each year I truly look forward to. It is the one time where those with opposing political points of view — oftentimes diametrically opposed — can find a common purpose and appreciate the things we all have in common, rather than highlight our differences.
My father, who was Pennsylvania's Attorney General, would make it a point each Society dinner to seek out his political opponents to say hello and even explore opportunities for partnerships to get things done for Pennsylvanians. I have made lifelong friends with people I met at the Society dinner — people I likely never would have met nor embraced otherwise due to our political differences.
So, it is particularly meaningful to me that I now have the privilege to lead The Pennsylvania Society as its president. In fact, I'm the first woman to have the honor to do so. And, like my immediate predecessor and friend, Ed Sheehan, I too am committed to ensuring that PA Society weekend remains a place of civility, free of the venom that too often accompanies our politics. And not just our politics. Even today's business leaders have seen fractures in civil discourse.
I'm delighted that we will present this year's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement to the charitable-minded Broadhurst family of Pittsburgh, who own and operate Eat'n Park restaurants. With their iconic "smiley face" cookies, the Broadhursts seem to understand and embrace the value of civility across corporate America. I look forward to celebrating their example on Saturday, Dec. 3.
I will confess that there have been times recently where I struggled to maintain civility given my own political involvement. As secretary of Pennsylvania's Republican Party and the Montgomery County Republican Party, I have found myself, more than once, on the receiving end of some pretty stinging, and unfair personal attacks, especially during this recent election season. I have had to catch myself before reflexively firing back. My affiliation with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia where I proudly serve on the board of directors has reminded me why it's best that I don't engage.
At a time when political polarization has reached new levels, the Constitution Center is the leader on civil debate about our Constitution. The Center brings together people of all ages and political perspectives to teach students about our founding documents. And to exemplify the importance of civil debate in America, the Center recently elected the liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch as honorary co-chairs of the Center.
We must learn to disagree without being disagreeable, without name calling and hate. Institutions like the NCC and The Pennsylvania Society thankfully promote the kind of civility that is critical to making this country the best place to live in the world. It is important to support these kinds of institutions and participate — now more than ever.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, an attorney at Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia, is president of The Pennsylvania Society and serves as secretary of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: PA Society Dinner to honor Eat'n Park Broadhurst family at annual gala