Readshaw talks about the past and looks toward the future
February 9, 2010
Harry Readshaw III always knew what he was going to be, at least in his first career.
"I was raised in a funeral home. The day I was born, I think my parents programmed me," the third generation funeral director said. "They knew what I was going to be."
Harry Readshaw III
Now well into his second career, the eight-term Pennsylvania state representative talks easily about life, his philosophy, his history and his future.
Growing up above the family funeral home in Carrick, he considers small business as a wonderful learning experience, one that helped him prepare for his second career – that in public service as a state representative in the 36th Legislative District.
His education wasn't limited to on the job training, Mr. Readshaw also attended and graduated from Duquesne University and the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. After graduating he served in the Marine Corps before returning to work in the family business.
It's an understatement when he says he is an avid supporter of communities and has been involved in neighborhood activities and organizations all his life. The list of community organizations he's involved with reads more like a directory than a resume and includes not only neighborhood, but fraternal and veteran groups.
The concentric circles of family, business and community service almost added the public service layer in 1993 when Mr. Readshaw ran for city council to fill the vacant seat left by Jack Wagner who was running for mayor.
"I came in second in a five-man heat," he laughed. "I lost by 225 votes and came in second to Joe Cusick."
He thought he had given public service his best shot when the next year he got a call from then state Senator Mike Dawida. The senator encouraged him to run for the open state representative seat in his district.
"You could win this," he told Mr. Readshaw.
After talking it over with his wife, Carol, and considering the demands of the job such as being out of town in Harrisburg at least three days a week, the Carrick resident decided to run for state representative. The field was crowded again in 1994 with five candidates vying for the position when Mr. Readshaw won the Democratic nomination in the Primary Election and then ran unopposed in the General Election and was sworn in in 1995.
"The transition from small business owner and community advocate [to state representative] wasn't a big leap for me," Rep. Readshaw said. He explained that before he was elected, he didn't know anything about state government, but before taking office he had an opportunity to go up to Harrisburg and observe and learn.
One thing that he has learned in his almost 16 years in office it that, "not everyone likes Harry Readshaw. But if we keep our batting average at .750 to .800, we're doing alright."
"I'm a pretty conservative person," he readily admits. "Not far right…but for a Democrat."
The thing he is most proud of has been his ability and opportunity to bring back from Harrisburg large about of money for the 36th District. He takes special pride in being able to get state grants for police, fire companies and non-profits in his district.
Prior to the last reapportionment, Mr. Readshaw was able to get $1.5 million for an addition to Phillips Park in Carrick. The addition is one of many public meeting spaces, roads and fields that now bear his name.
"Now it seems people condemn you for doing it. I tell people this is your money, if you don't have somebody fighting for it you won't get it," he said of recent criticism he has received for facilitating the grants.
"I take great satisfaction that I've been able to do this," he says.
Mr. Readshaw, who will be 69 years old in August, recently announced his intention to run for another term. He still enjoys the job and takes great satisfaction in doing the job particularly now that there have been several retirements in the House by senior members and he has been looked to by some of the newer House members for advice and leadership.
As long as he's active, he would like to serve. He said there are three ways to leave office, "You can be defeated, you can retire or you can die."
His time in the House hasn't all been easy; the process for the last State budget was "difficult."
"This past budget experience was the worst experience since I've been in office," Rep. Readshaw said explaining that it was a $3.5 billion budget brought on by the national economy which in turn affected the state budget which affected county budgets and local municipalities on down the line.
"In our own households it's difficult [to figure out a budget]. It's 253 individuals in the General Assembly trying to reach compromise and nobody has had that problem [a $3.5 billion budget] before," he said.
"Democracy is very slow, but it is what it is," Mr. Readshaw continued. "Our forefathers had enough foresight to design it with checks and balances."
Except for the budget crisis when he had to be in Harrisburg for 13 straight days at one point and often was on six hours notice to return to the state capital, things are often more routine. Most of the time it is the same problems from constituents, some days they're more major than others, he says.
However, one thing Mr. Readshaw has noticed was that in general there seems to be a greater reliance on government than there once was. He doesn't see it as a good trend and is concerned with the reliance on government in people's everyday lives.
Being an elected state representative is a 24-hour job for the Carrick resident. He gets calls from constituents not only in the office but while he's at home, shopping and even in church.
"It takes a special understanding spouse," he said. "Your time is not your own. When you have young children it's a real challenge."
Fortunately, he didn't have younger children when he began his life in public service.
Now his wife, Carol, comes with him to many of the functions that he attends. Often their social lives are blurred into their public lives.
"Every once in a while we get to go to a show," he says.
He says that his wife worked hard on getting him elected to office and she's "more than tolerated it."
"I think she respects what I do," Mr. Readshaw said. "She understands what I do."
Representing five municipalities plus a portion of the City of Pittsburgh takes much of his time when he's in town. Mr. Readshaw makes as many community and municipal meetings as he can, although many fall on the same day and time.
He explains that he would rather hear firsthand what the problems and issues are in a