Senator Baker Receives Athena Award from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry

Congratulations to all of the award winners, sponsors and WNEP video!

Today’s lunch is the only meal that I will enjoy with my family this week, so I am especially grateful to the Chamber and Motorworld for hosting this event. As you know, we are in the heart of budget negotiations, so I have been spending a lot of time in Harrisburg.

As Tom Ridge used to say, the uniform of public service is not just worn by the elected official. It is worn by the entire family. Gary and Carson are extremely supportive, and I would not be able to do it without them.

I am honored and humbled by your generous recognition. It is hard to shake the feeling that, at times such as this, the spotlight should shine most brightly on those who made it possible for us to follow our chosen paths. In the audience today are many of the folks who deserve the marquee.

Albert Einstein said that it was not success we should be seeking, but value. In truth, it is not “success” in attaining a position or a title that drives us. It is the value of the work that we do. We are not measured by the hours logged in the limelight, but by the results produced and the progress derived through concerted effort off-stage.

Looking across the room, and seeing the diversity of business and community interests represented, I suspect that none of us are in it just to make a statement. No, it is a combination of higher motives compelling us – pursuing interests, contributing time and talents and ideas, making a difference.

We are fortunate to live in a time when pioneers have blazed a lot of professional trails and torn down a lot of barriers to opportunity. Without the risk-taking and struggles and determination of those who went first, like the previous Athena recipients and Circle 200 members, we would have run into closed doors and glass ceilings all over the place, as they did.

We have possibilities today that our mothers and grandmothers could only dream about. I am honored to have my mother, Martha Jones and my mother in law, Dorothy Major Baker here today. The sacrifices they made, the encouragement they gave, the inspiration they provided, these things combine to provide a world of opportunity.

I count myself fortunate to have had many mentors, who taught me, who challenged me, who gave me the chance to excel or to fail, on my own. There is simply no way to put a price tag on all the good advice and crucial help they provided. Thank goodness I was smart enough to listen and to learn – most of the time, anyhow – when the tuition was cheapest. People like Senator Lemmond, Pat Solano, Shawn Murphy and Sue Kluger and my friends at Leadership Wilkes-Barre.

Among the most important things instilled is the understanding of the difference between right and wrong. That is apparently not a given any more, as we see those in politics and business and entertainment succumbing to all sorts of temptations. Trust is the key to what we do, and a strong sense of ethics is the cornerstone of trust. I value my wonderful staff and volunteers who help me to do the right thing for our community. Like Jen Wilson, Heather Kukosky, Sue Dalkiewicz, Alvin Cragle, Chuck Gommer and Bruce Mackle, who are here with me today.

Margaret Thatcher, who gave the world a spectacular demonstration of the capacity of women to lead, offered a great perspective on the downside of seeking political safety: “The problem with being middle-of-the-road is you get dusted by traffic going in both directions.” In many ways, to go where we are warned not to, to attempt things that others discourage, to present a point of view that cuts across the grain of conventional wisdom, these all risk popularity. So be it. If popularity is the end game, then a lot is lost.

We admire those inclined to act, to explore, to follow their dreams. An old-time syndicated columnist by the name of Sydney Harris offered a wonderful insight in this direction: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” There are no regrets about choosing public service, even at a time when the regard for it is not so high. For our system to work, we must have those who are willing to live the principles of civic engagement. Responsibility entails sacrifice, but sacrificing personal interest is necessary to realizing the common good.

Too many people these days define things by what they are against, who they do not like, and what they would like to tear down. I retain that fundamental optimism, that we can do better, that we will do better, that the ability to build constructive consensus will prevail over the controversies – real or contrived – that divide us.

If you saw any of the recent memorials to Tim Russert, his son related one of the favorite stories from his dad’s book. Tim called up a friend disconsolate over the loss of his 17-year-old son, and said that if God had offered him a deal long ago that he could spend 17 years with an incredible person, he would have taken that deal in a heartbeat. Tim told him that was the gift he had in his son.

Such a profound lesson reminds us to celebrate all that we have. We receive many gifts, of time and talent, of parents and others who teach and train us and act as role models, and of opportunities to serve and to contribute. The best way to repay those who saw something special in us, who invested in us, who inspired us, is to use our gifts to good purpose and to great result.

The gift you give today – the Athena Award – is moving, and I am extremely grateful for your kindness.

 Contact: Brian Grove
(570) 675-3931

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