When Standing On The Sidelines Isn’t Enough

One of the best things that ever happened to Malvern, PA was Pat McGuigan. This self-deprecating ex-Army Command Sergeant Major retired to Malvern in the 80’s, drawn by its rural, down-to-earth charm.  A doer instead of a talker, Pat became President of the Borough Council for a time and then retired again. 

One day in the 90’s, when Malvern woke up to being virtually broke, Sam and Betty Burke, town elders for whom Malvern’s Burke Park is named, brought McGuigan back as Manager. He did two things that had immediate impact: one, he stopped all but the most necessary spending (legend has it that when the Police Chief bought something without an OK, McGuigan made him pay for it) and two, every night after dinner, he and his wife Margaret walked different parts of the Borough, getting to know the people and spotting small problems before they became big.

Within two years, he had brought Malvern back to health.

Pre-McGuigan, many area realtors avoided Malvern; post-McGuigan, they feature it. Malvern had arrived. That’s one reason the Malvern government bulding is named McGuigan Hall.

This is the kind of leadership the country yearns for today: an honest, modest leader who gets things done. Despite all the headlines, these kinds of leaders still exist. You just have to look for them behind the blowhards and me-firsters.

Rural villages like Malvern are fragile things, easily overpowered by voracious developers and ego-centric politicians who want more high rise apartment complexes, more sidewalks, more stop signs, more speed bumps, and other symbols of “progress”- people who simply don’t get it.

And then there are people who do get it, like Pat McGuigan.

And Joe Bones. 

Joe and his wife, Sarah, first moved into an apartment on Woodland Avenue in 1976. Later they bought a small house on High Street where they raised two children and embarked on successful careers. She is a freelance photographer and video director; he has been one of the “experts” at Bartlett Tree Experts since 1971 when he graduated from Conestoga High School. An arborist who now supervises 300 people, he has lectured on tree care and safety as far away as Singapore.

In the middle 80’s, he and Sam Burke started the Malvern Tree Commission. Around the same time, Sarah joined the Borough Planning Commission and eventually became the Vice-President of the Borough Council. Their joint commitment to open space resulted in Randolf Woods, an untouched wooded area behind the Malvern Fire Station that is now protected by state law. 

Why do I tell you about one couple in this one little town? 

First, Malvern is a great example of what once was and still can be: a small town inhabited by people who – corny as it sounds – have timeless values like integrity, volunteering, and a strong sense of community. 

Second, Joe Bones is running for Malvern Borough Council. 

A few years ago, he noticed that Randolf Woods wasn’t being taken care of properly. Its neighbors were dumping rusty bikes and other trash. Walking paths were being vandalized. 

He went to the Borough Council with his concerns. 

“They listened politely, said ‘thanks for telling us’ – and did nothing”, he says.

But Joe understands process and perseverance. He went to the Planning Commission and together they formed a committee of 10 other citizens. Then all 10 went back to the Council. There is now a 90-page plan in place for maintaining, upgrading, and preserving Randolf Woods, along with funding. 

“Randolf Woods will be a jewel”, Joe says. 

Why run for Borough Council? Because of politics today. 

“I realized that standing on the sidelines isn’t enough anymore”, he says. “You have to do something.”

“Zoning needs to be updated,” he adds. “Something as simple as setbacks requirements (the space between properties) need to be revised.” 

He also noticed that Council votes have become somewhat automatic. “People don’t ask questions that much anymore. I just think we need more questions – from Council Members and the public. It’s our town, after all.”

Several days a week, Joe and Sarah walk the Borough. They chat with fellow Malvernites. When they see a defective telephone pole, a cracked sidewalk or other problems, they report it to the Borough Manager.  The problems get fixed.

Good people pick up on good practices.

And good people aren’t hard to find. You just have to vote for them.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)