Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Pat McGeehan

October 28, 2021 Coalfield Development Episode 25
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Pat McGeehan
Transcript
Brandon Dennison:

Welcome to Change in the Coalfields. My name is Brandon Dennison, I'm your host today and really honored to have Delegate Pat McGeehan of Hancock County with us. Delegate, welcome to the podcast.

Pat McGeehan:

Thanks for having me on, Brandon. I really appreciate it.

Brandon Dennison:

And excited today. You know, of course you are. You're an elected official, and we're going to talk about that, but also just excited to learn about who you are what makes you tick. What really, it gives you driving passion to serve our state and to be a leader in our state.

Pat McGeehan:

Sure, sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm excited to have a conversation and talk with you about what you guys are doing in, I guess, the southern southwestern part of West Virginia down around Huntington. I think. My real good friend, Ashley Stinnett speaks very highly of you and your organization. So very, very much glad to be on.

Brandon Dennison:

Great. Yeah, that's our new communications coordinator, Ashley, he's doing a great job and speaks very highly of you as well.

Pat McGeehan:

Oh, good. Everything he says are lies about me. So don't believe him. Hopefully, they're good things.

Brandon Dennison:

You're in the Northern Panhandle. Did you grow up there?

Pat McGeehan:

No, yeah. But my hometown is Chester West Virginia. It's the northernmost town in the entire state. By latitude, believe it or not, we are actually north of the city of Pittsburgh. So yeah, I come from way up north, the very tippy top of the Northern Panhandle. I did not grow up there. Both sides of my family are from that section of the Northern Panhandle. But my father was an Air Force pilot. And so I spent most of my younger years, sort of following him and my mother around from military base to military base with his career. So, you know, I grew up in places like the island of Guam in the middle of Pacific Ocean and, you know, lived practically, in every region of the continental United States, from Nebraska, to the state of Washington to the deep south and Alabama, to way up north and the very northern parts of Michigan. So, you know, lived all around the country. But my father actually was killed when I was in just about to enter the ninth grade. And that's when we move back, he was killed in the line of duty. And we move back to West Virginia to you know, my family's sort of hometown, and I spent my high school years near Chester, and then then I went off to the service myself. So yeah, so I always considered West Virginia, my home, you know, because we came back for Christmases and thanksgivings, and summers, to visit, you know, my grandparents on both sides and all my cousins and uncles. So, you know, I've always, I've always been a mountaineer, I guess at heart regardless.

Brandon Dennison:

I'd say some listeners might be surprised to know there's a part of West Virginia that's north of Pittsburgh. So yeah, we're an interesting state. We're quite oddly shaped and have some parts that jut out here and there.

Pat McGeehan:

People from Wheeling, really, they think Wheeling ends, West Virginia ends in Wheeling. And, and so but I'm an hour and 10 minutes north of Wheeling. So you know, but yeah, you know, I could be at the Pittsburgh airport, in I don't know, 25 minutes. So it's not really a bad, you guys, anyone listening should come up and visit we are home of the world's largest tea pot. So, you know, it's it's not exactly the eighth wonder of the world. But, you know, come on up, check it out for yourself.

Brandon Dennison:

I always like to ask guests about sort of what experiences really shaped them and formed them. I can't imagine losing your father. It sounds like at a young age that had to have been quite a formative experience.

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah, yeah. I guess that would be a big one. It's one of those moments where you sort of in your mind, whether this is conscious or unconscious, I'm not sure I've never been psychoanalyzed I don't think anybody actually would want to do any psychoanalysis on me. But I think you kind of look at some times, events in your life as before this event. And after this event, you know, and for me, that's very much the case. You know, every time I measure life or think about things, my always, it's always done pre this accident, my father was killed, and he flew B 52 bombers and his bomber crashed near the runway, at an Air Force base that we were stationed at, right outside Spokane, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest there. So, you know, anytime I think about things I think about before that and, and then after that, and, you know, I mean, while while it was very tragic, and, and a terrible experience to go through. It also taught me a lot of invaluable lessons that I probably never would have learned otherwise. And he set a very good example for me. Not just, you know, by growing up around him by, you know, why, but just by watching him in action, especially in his final moment, so, you know, so I'm sort of, in a weird way thankful for the legacy and courage that that he left me, you know, and, and, you know, sort of, sometimes life can be a testing ground, and you either meet that test or fail to get up and keep pushing. So I'm appreciative sometimes for the adversity that I was granted.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah. Wow. And it takes a lot of grace to keep that perspective, which is inspiring for me. For our listeners. How old were you when that happened?

Pat McGeehan:

I was 14, I was almost 15. Yeah, I had two younger brothers too, Brendan, he was 11 at the time, and my youngest brother Colin was five. So and they've both grown up to be very successful. You know, I'll go ahead and brag on them right now, Brendan, you might notice that we're all named after Irish Catholic saints. My full name is Patrick Riley McKeon we're very much an Irish Catholic family. My two younger brothers are Brendan Sean and Colin Michael. Colin my youngest brother. He was actually named after Michael Collins, the famous Irish revolutionary. But my mom wouldn't allow the the, the exact name so my father just reversed it to Colin Michael. So but Brendan, you know, he, he got his doctorate from Princeton University in plasma physics, which I didn't know existed before he started studying it. And, and then Colin, he went on and thought he was being the rebel of the family by going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis instead of the Air Force Academy, which is where I attended and where my father had attended. So I always teased him and said, 'Yeah, you're quite the rebel. You went to the other federal service academy.' You know. So...

Brandon Dennison:

Three boys, two academies and Princeton.

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah. So Colin became a Navy pilot, and he just got out of the service actually. And he, he's, he works. He's an executive with Citibank. Out of Covington, Kentucky, near Covington, Kentucky. So, so yeah, they're doing very well. And they, they, they have they each have three girls. I have a daughter, who's my pride and joy. She's just turned 17 on Sunday. So my mom has seven granddaughter's and zero grandsons. So I don't know what the probabilities of that happening, but they're not very, they're pretty slim. I think. So.

Brandon Dennison:

I bet the family get togethers are fun.

Pat McGeehan:

Oh, yeah. They're fun. Yeah, they really are. My mom got remarried shortly after we moved back to West Virginia. And so I do have my younger sister Madison. So it's just all girls. And you know, girls are much different from boys, especially when they get to the teenage years. So it's got its challenges, but it's got a lot of rewards. It's a lot of fun.

Brandon Dennison:

We're all learning learning as we go, right?

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah, right, right. Right, right.

Brandon Dennison:

So you, so you went to high school? Which high school do you go to there in Chester?

Pat McGeehan:

I went to Oakland High School. That's where most of my family went to high school and actually on both sides, my family, so I went to Oakland High School. And then we're real famous in West Virginia for if you're if you follow athletic sports anyway, at the high school level for wrestling, we won, I think maybe 14 or 15 state championships in wrestling in a row. So I was sort of part of that I wrestled in high school. But anyway, I went to the Air Force Academy after high school and got my bachelor's was there, and then I wanted to, to be a pilot after I graduated, but 9/11 took place, my junior year at the Academy, and they the Air Force needed intelligence officers, since that was widely considered the biggest failure biggest intelligence failures since since maybe Pearl Harbor. And so, you know, I was a little disappointed, but they're like, 'We really need you to go into intelligence.' So that's what I did. And so, you know, I did a deployment overseas into the Middle East and Qatar and then into Afghanistan. And then sort of ferried back and forth between then between the two nations, doing intelligence analyst work, stuff like that. So that's what I did in the military that was a long time ago, you know. I mean, it's hard to believe I was in Afghanistan in 2005. And to see the pictures coming out a Cabul recently, you know, it's first off, I just couldn't believe we're still there, you know, this many years later, but it's sort of surreal brings back some memories.

Brandon Dennison:

I'm sure. That's a complicated mix of emotions to see what's going on there right now.

Pat McGeehan:

Right, right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So.

Brandon Dennison:

Did you always know you would end up back in West Virginia? Was that always a goal of yours?

Pat McGeehan:

I don't know. I guess I've always kind of been drawn to home. There's nothing like home, you know, and I always considered, you know, all my family roots were really from West Virginia. And my dad loved West Virginia, so I think that's right. I think I always wanted, I always envisioned, you know, living here and retiring here.

Brandon Dennison:

Did you always want to run for office?

Pat McGeehan:

No, no, not at all. I never even crossed my mind until, you know, maybe. I don't know, a few weeks before I actually filed. So.

Brandon Dennison:

Are you serious?

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah. It's kind of funny. I kind of laugh at that sometimes the wonder what my old man would think that I became a politician. Because it was just, you know, I don't know if there's any worse profession in the world than Politician as far as the stereotypes go. I mean, even lawyers, you know, you have all the lawyer jokes, but I bet you the jokes about politicians, you know, make those look rather. Now, they are not dirty, you know? So I don't know. But yeah, you know, I thought, you know, some might say naively considered, being able to change the world, so to speak, but once you get into office, you realize that things might be a little bit worse than what you even thought on the outskirts.

Brandon Dennison:

Walk us through that story. So like, what, what, what made you throw your hat in the ring? And what's it been like, since you've gotten there?

Pat McGeehan:

Oh, let's see. So I decided to run for state delegate in my district. There was an open seat. And I had owned a couple businesses at the time. And I always just was irritated because it seemed like a lot of the local politicians that represent in my area, whether they were state delegates or state senators, they never took any of my complaints seriously. I always had, you know, regulators and I always had, you know, bureaucrats harassing me about filling out this form right and get this form in time turned in time or this permit and, and, and, anyway, it would just seem like a I was swamped with unnecessary red tape. And then a lot of the politicians in the area seem to be beholden to certain interest groups. And the only time they cared is if said interest groups said anything. So that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. And so this, someone announced they weren't going to run again. And in my area, nobody had ever voted or elected in a Republican in something like 50 years at the time, this is in 2008. And so I signed up, and, you know, and ended up winning. And so, you know, so then I guess it just kind of went from there. It was, it was sort of eye opening, when you got into Charleston and into the state house and started understanding how things worked. And so, you know, I kind of made a choice early on, in, in politics, that I really wasn't going to pay too much attention about what the proper ways to go about and do things were I was just gonna go ahead and just sort of speak my mind and vote how I wanted to vote. And, you know, however, that went, 'Okay, that's fine.' I never planned on, you know, being some sort of permanent political figure anyway. So if the voters liked it, then they would like it. And if not, okay, that's fine. I'll go on and live my life like I was before. And so that's what I did. And you know, sometimes some people think that's very annoying when you're in Charleston, people around you. But other times people say, 'Yeah, I kind of liked that. Maybe I want to imitate that kind of behavior.' So that's sort of how I operated. Hopefully, I'd like to think I'm still operating in that same manner.

Brandon Dennison:

What were you mentioned some businesses. So military service, which I personally really appreciate. And then also, you've started some businesses, which I think is incredible. Can you say a little bit about your entrepreneurial experience?

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah. So first job I got out of the military was, the president of a corrugated container company hired me to help manage four container plants near Fort Wayne, Indiana. And so I learned that trade pretty quickly over about a year. And basically, when I said corrugated container, it's just packaging boxes, you know, the special machines that make the corrugated and they form the box and print it and make it look pretty for companies to ship their products in. And so I went into the business and I thought I could do this myself. So then I moved back home to West Virginia after that, and opened up my own, I guess you could call it just a box plant where we would warehouse and manufacture some of the corrugated containers in-house and things of that nature. So we serviced as a number of big clients, I sort of snagged like my own pharmaceuticals. And there was a Honda plant, northwest of Honda packaging, sort of assembly plant northwest of Columbus, that was another major clients. We had a lot of major clients. But, you know, we did fairly well, and I got started to get into the recycled rubber processing industry. But that was right, right at the end of 2008. And the financial collapse came and the ensuing fall out, and that was pretty bad. So we ended up having to close our doors by about the middle of 2009. So you know, but it was was a good run for, I don't know, about four years, three and a half years, and I learned a whole lot, you know, in business and about how to make money and how to treat employees right. And, you know, learned a whole lot about what not to do what to do, so it was fun. Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

So you were a wrestler? In the military? I think I heard Catholic in there.

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah, I was a boxer at the Air Force Academy. I box intermurals. And you can notice if you could see my nose, it's rather crooked.

Brandon Dennison:

You've been knocked a couple of different directions.

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah, I broke my nose five times boxing. I was 23-0.

Brandon Dennison:

Really? All right. No Joke.

Pat McGeehan:

I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna brag, but I'm kind of bragging right now.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, that's worth bragging about, though. That connects my question actually too I mean, how key has discipline, self discipline been for you and your life and in your career?

Pat McGeehan:

It's very important, you know, self discipline, self control, temperance. That's one of the four cardinal virtues from the classic philosophy, philosophical masters, you know, going back all the way to Athens, ancient Athens. So I think self control is one of the keys to, I guess, not only success, but happiness in general. And so, one thing that I developed is the dichotomy of control. Philosophy, which comes from a stoic philosopher named Epictetus in the second century, he really emphasized this, I think the most, and it's really simple. Most people probably have heard of it, but implemented it into your life is a lot more difficult than what may seem at first, it's basically amounts to just focusing only on what you have direct control over, and dismissing and discounting what you don't have much control over it, really. And really, what that boils down to is, once you start finding out, you don't really have too much control over anything in this world, in which you have the most control over is your own mind, how you think, your thoughts, your judgments, and your opinions, and then the actions that come from them. And so that's really helped me especially in times of adversity, be able to remain calm, remain prudent, for the most part, you know, and, in thinking long term, take a step back first, before you rush into some sort of conclusion or judgment, especially about other people, it helps in debate and dialogue, especially in the legislature, especially now, in this polarized sort of political moment, where it seems like the country is very divisive. You know, these kinds of practices can really help and it can bring a whole lot of peace of mind.

Brandon Dennison:

So you consider yourself a stoic in the in the philosophical sense?

Pat McGeehan:

I try to practice it. I don't, I don't know if I'm, you know, I have to keep my ego in check. So calling myself a stoic might be an overstep of that, but I still have an Irish streak in me. And my buddies sometimes say that you might be the first Irish stoic, which is quite the oxymoron. So, so you know, and that's one thing I really wanted to use was to try to conquer the old Irish temper that runs in my family, as my mom likes to say. But I try, you know, I try these stoic practices. And sometimes I fail and sometimes I'm successful. But it helps to temper negative emotions. And you can avoid irrational judgments you can avoid becoming irate and angry over things that, you know, you'll later regret. I think a lot of people when they get mad, they lose their temper. That's why they say they're sorry, later on, because they're just caught up in the moment. And they sort of lost. You know, Seneca called anger, really, temporary insanity. Because you sort of just, you know, lose yourself to this rage. And so some of these practices, they're not meant to repress emotions, these negative emotions, the practices are meant to prevent the generation of these negative emotions to begin with. And so I find them to be self rewarding. They also complement my Roman Catholic faith. And so I'm actually trying to finish your graduate degree at Franciscan University out of Steubenville right now in philosophy. So, so yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

What led you to philosophy? What got you interested in philosophy?

Pat McGeehan:

I don't know. I've always been sort of a curious kind of guy. And I had to take a philosophy class my sophomore year at the Air Force Academy, and I remember my professor had his PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame, and he was such an exuberant guy and he was able to explain things, sort of like telling stories. And I remember hearing about this guy, Socrates and Plato and I never really knew too much about these fellows. And he would tell stories about some of these ancient philosophers. And they just started making a whole lot of sense to be. And that just engaged my attention. It was probably one of my favorite classes there. But he told a story once about a guy that I knew of just from my father. His name was Admiral James Stockdale, and most people would not be familiar with this gentleman, unless they recall the vice presidential debate of 1992. That year, Bill Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush, but Ross Perot was also in the race. And James Stockdale, a retired Navy admiral was Perot's running mate as vice president. Yeah, and if you remember the Saturday Night Live skit afterwards about, 'Where am I? Why am I here?

Brandon Dennison:

Dana Carvey one of his early?

Pat McGeehan:

Dana Carvey yeah, they're making fun of Stockdale, a little bit, which is really sad. Because Stockdale was a little bit of a philosopher. He was a stoic philosopher. So he went to the Naval Academy, but he got his graduate degree from

Brandon Dennison:

Seeds planted. Stanford afterwards. And he winds up in Vietnam. At my age, age 40. He's a fighter pilot, he gets shot down, and he spends almost eight years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi

Pat McGeehan:

Adverse, or you know, adverse situations in life Hilton, which is the nickname that pilots gave to this awful prison camp, where American pilots were severely tortured. And Stockdale was the senior ranking military officer that was captured and held at this, that this infamous prison camp. And so they were extra hard on him. They stuck him in solitary confinement for four years. Two of those years he was in leg irons in solitary confinement in a cell that was probably no bigger than a small closet, dark and damp. And but Stockdale had memorized Epictetus', that stoic philosopher I told you about earlier, he had memorized his little handbook. He had read it every night, while he was on his aircraft carrier, doing missions into North Vietnam. And so he was able to remain, you know, very calm, and he was able to keep his sanity where most people would probably have gone insane. So I actually met General Stockdale at the Air Force Academy. Before Stockdale died, he came and gave a lecture on character there when I was just a freshman cadet. And in my philosophy class at the Academy, the next year, my professor I was telling you about brings up a story about Stockdale and the stoic philosophy. And it was I think it was right after you know, the famous Greeks, you know, like the big three like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and then he touched on stoicism. He's talks about Stockdale. So that stuck in my mind, obviously, because my dad loved Stockdale, and that I remember meeting him the year before I got his autograph. And anyway, I said, you know, at the time, I'm more interested in fast cars and women. So I'll get to this stuff, maybe later. This is cool, but it stuck in my mind. And when I sort of needed it. later on when you mature it kind of those experiences when I was younger, sort of carried me back to it.

Brandon Dennison:

I have to say you're the first West Virginia delegate who I've ever talked with about Greek philosophers. So I give I give props. You're also the first 23-0 Boxer, I think I've ever met.

Pat McGeehan:

That wasn't intercollegiate. It was just intramural. So a lot of, you know, guys that didn't know what they were doing.

Brandon Dennison:

So what, as a leader in the state, as a veteran as a business person, what is giving you hope for West Virginia and Appalachia's future right now. And what are you really worried about, which sort of leads to the final question of what what sorts of changes are you seeing, but also what sorts of changes do you wish you were seeing that you're not yet?

Pat McGeehan:

Yeah. Wow, those are some broad questions. Well, I mean, really, I'm a little worried about this situation that we have all experienced over the last year and a half with the Coronavirus pandemic, not so much about the virus, you know, some people, especially on, I guess, you know, I don't like to talk this way. But sometimes you have to talk this way in order to, to draw out points. There's some people, I think, on the left or fallen more of a sort of left wing attitude, that would assert that anybody that criticizes the government, in times of this pandemic just somehow doesn't think that the pandemic is a serious matter. And that's not the case at all, I think the pandemic is serious. And we should treat it as such. I lost my uncle, my dad's younger brother, to complications from COVID-19, back at the end of January. And so, so it's been personal with me. But I've been very concerned about some of the conscious and maybe unconscious effects that have perhaps transformed our state government and practically every state government, in the union. From this pandemic, so the under the rubric of the COVID, 19 pandemic, we've seen Governor after Governor, essentially, and this is not hyperbole or exaggeration, become the law themselves. And so if you notice every day that Jim Justice, our Governor, our Chief Executive, has a press conference. Anything that comes out of his mouth, could essentially become the law. That's not something that is, per se, American, you know, we have a rule of law. And as we all could probably recall from our lessons from eighth grade civics class, only the legislature makes the laws and the executive of course just merely enforces the laws, the legislature and acts. And we do that for strong reasons. Number one, that's how its laid out the structure of our constitutional order. But also this goes back to antiquity. And it's developed further and further in the tradition of, of the way classical government has progressed. You know, the Baron de Montesquieu talks a lot about this. And he kind of leaned towards a Republican framework, the check and balance framework and I mean, a lot of times, you know, you can look at what has happened, and most of these governments now that are overlain or state capitals, are You know, so if you have some sort of emergency power, is what more akin to almost something like monarchies, than, you know, that vision that we had the system of, of the check and balance system to prevent, you know, too few of people from gaining too much power. And I'm very, I think this is going to have a lot of social damage. Going forward, I think it has already has a whole had a lot of social damage. I mean, go to your average person on the road now. Next time, you place a fast food order from Wendy's or, or Taco Bell, or something, and just ask the person giving you the food, you know, 'Who makes the laws?' And they're probably going to say, 'Well, Jim, justice, and is his dog, you know, he makes the laws, obviously.' So, I mean, it's having a huge impact. And it's becoming more and more legitimized. And this is something that we need to draw a line in the sand over. I don't care if you're on the right or left. I mean these, these types of things need to be debated in an open forum, amongst an assembly, a legislative assembly, for good reasons. And those reasons are all laid out by guys that are a heck of a lot smarter than me. they call it now, for over a year and a half. It's almost like they're keeping it in perpetuity. You know, there's no hard checks. And you know, what's even more telling it is none of these novel regimes that are occupying our state capitals across the country, with the exception of a few have conceded any limits to their own very power. So that's sort of disconcerting myself.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, what's got you, I hear the concern there, what's got you feeling hopeful? What's what's good in Appalachia that we can lift up right now to?

Pat McGeehan:

Well, I think that there's some good entrepreneurial efforts that are going on throughout the state, you know, I am very hopeful about, you know, some of the different young folks that are staying and are trying to come up with different ways to do business. You know, there's some, some good things up in the northern panhandle that are going on, there's some properties that are trying to be developed. You know, we have a lot of positive things I think that a lot of positive folks that are really working hard on on some decent projects. I won't go into the specifics. But that's what kind of gives me hope, because there's a lot of younger folks that have new visions, new ways of thinking, and that's what we really need, you know, we need to do to move forward, you know, and try to think outside the box. And that's, you know, that's one thing that really brightens my day. So hopefully, hopefully we have more of that that transpires as we go forward.

Brandon Dennison:

Yep. Right on. Well, thank you for your service to our country to our state. Thank you for your time today. I'm gonna...

Pat McGeehan:

No problem.

Brandon Dennison:

I'm going to read a lot more about stoicism than I ever have before. And I really appreciate your time.

Pat McGeehan:

Oh, yeah. No problem. No problem at all. I wrote a little book about it. If you want to read it. I don't know if that's any good, but...

Brandon Dennison:

I'd love to.

Pat McGeehan:

All right. You take it easy. Thanks for having me on Brandon.

Brandon Dennison:

Thanks so much.

Pat McGeehan:

All right, God bless.

Brandon Dennison:

Change in the Coalfields is a podcast created by Coalfield Development at the West Edge Factory in Huntington, West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia. Become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website, coalfield-development.org to make a donation. You can email us anytime at info@coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for up to date information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn by searching for Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.