We are all aware of those in the government and public policy arena who hold big titles – presidents, U.S. Senators, governors – but among the unique elements of our system of governance are the people behind the scenes who remain largely unknown to the general public, but whose dedication to the ideals of our great nation make the official wheels of government turn in the right direction.
Penn’s Woods lost one of those patriots recently with the passing of Frederick W. Anton, III. You may never have heard of Fred Anton, but there is no doubt he affected your life in some way. He was often referred to as a “power broker.” But in his case the power he wielded came not from public office, but from the respect he earned. And he used that power not for personal gain, but to create opportunity and expand liberty for all Pennsylvanians.
An attorney by profession and hugely successful in the insurance business Fred turned much of his attention to politics. From his perch as head of the influential Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association he gave audience to politicians from both parties who sought his advice, counsel and blessing.
Having risen to prominence through Richard Thornburgh’s successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania, Fred established a policy seminar held each year during the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York City. Centered on an elaborate dinner at the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Pennsylvania Society weekend is largely a social affair for elected officials, would-be elected officials, along with the state’s business elite and policy establishment.
Fred though the weekend would benefit from a serious discussion of the issues confronting Pennsylvania so he began the PMA seminar. Over the years, governors and U.S. Senators, statewide elected officials, congressional and legislative leaders of both parties have spoken at the event. Today the seminar remains an island of seriousness in a sea of revelry. It is one of the most sought after invitations of the weekend.
But don’t think he only cared about the rich and powerful. Fred Anton was also the godfather of the conservative movement in Pennsylvania having mentored a wide range of conservative organizations, including the Lincoln Institute where he served on our board of directors for many years.
He took great pride in the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, which, because of his leadership is the largest and longest running state-based conservative conference in the nation.
The idea for the conference came from two college students who attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC in Washington, D.C. Fred always found time to spend with young people or those new to the world of government and politics. In this case he listened to their ideas and put them into action. After ten years the PLC faltered, but like a father teaching a child to ride a bicycle he picked it up, dusted it off and put it on a path to greater success.
Although Fred Anton strongly believed in pro-growth, conservative principles he possessed another trait that is unfortunately all too rare in the public arena today personal loyalty. One of his best friends was Arlen Specter. They frequently attended Eagles games and other events together. When Arlen got elected to the U.S. Senate he became renowned as one of the biggest liberals in the Republican conference. Even when Senator Specter was challenged by candidates far more conservative than he, Fred Anton remained a true and loyal friend.
His passing at this time is perhaps emblematic of the ending of an entire era in our nation’s history. Frederick W. Anton, III showed us that you could be powerful and influential, yet still have time and listen to the weakest of voices. You could be highly principled, yet honor friendship. You could fight passionately for your cause, yet do so in a respectful and proper manner. Just like we have lost him, America is losing that sense of propriety as well.
His loving family Emily, Fred and Sarah will miss him greatly as will all of us. To honor his memory we turn to the words of President Abraham Lincoln spoken at another time and another context at the great battlefield at Gettysburg: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
He did advance it nobly, and we will be so dedicated.
Rest in peace my friend.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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