Laura Cavender: Experienced Decision Maker
Laura Cavender spoke at the Haverford Democrats’ meeting on August 10 and summarized her career as a communications director, strategist, and speechwriter for universities and nonprofits, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania. But conversation with Cavender reveals a striking thing about her career: she has successfully performed all those functions during moments of great change, even crisis, in every organization she has served. She has been in the room when big decisions were made and has seen how leaders’ “ethical beliefs can animate their work.” She has learned the value of clear, direct communication with the public. As well, Cavender has made her own share of big decisions in the face of changed family circumstances. “You have to set priorities and that means knowing how you want to live,” she says in explaining her redesign of her professional life to meet her son’s special needs.
Just months before 9/11, the American Red Cross hired Cavender to manage communications in the president’s office. While crafting the Red Cross message amid the 9/11 crisis, Cavender was also writing speeches for Bernardine Healey, the high-powered leader who was pushing for change against institutional inertia. Healey lost that fight at the Red Cross, and Cavender got a crash course in the complexities of policy change. Georgetown University then hired Cavender to handle its media relations around the university’s Catholic and Jesuit identity as the church was struggling with its sex abuse scandal. Georgetown University acknowledged the quality of Cavender’s leadership in that job by hiring her to head the Georgetown Medical Center’s Communications Office.
The University of Pennsylvania recruited Cavender in 2009 to fill a newly-created position: Director of Strategic Communications for President Amy Gutmann, another high-powered leader. Arriving at PENN during a time of historic change in media and communications (as well as a time of global growth for the university), Cavender provided communications support to the president, worked with journalists and media leaders, and launched the president’s social media presence. “The mission was the same,” she explains, “but all the tools changed.” Ten years at PENN taught Cavender the value of balancing confidence in your vision of the future with collaboration in achieving goals.
It was Cavender’s turn to make big decisions in 2018 when her son, Ford, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. After two years of trying to manage her son’s needs while meeting relentless work demands, Cavender pivoted to building her own communications consulting firm and being present for her son as the family navigated his education and therapies. After a career of full-time work, she says the last two years have been “the most productive and rewarding of my life.” She has been able to continue her volunteer work with the Ward 5 Committee of the Haverford Democratic Party and was part of the team that successfully lobbied the Delco Election Board to provide Precinct 3 voters with their own polling site so they no longer have to trek to Precinct 4. Cavender fully recognizes her privilege in being able to fit her career around her role as a parent. Working with the Haverford School District to design a Kindergarten program for Ford during COVID has given her great respect for the “care and creativity” she saw on the whole team of educators who designed a “positive, consistent structure” for her son.
She is running now in the Special Election to fill the seat left by Andy Lewis’s death in April because “when I look at everything happening, I want to believe that if community leaders encourage neighbor-to-neighbor connection and make government more accessible for everyone, we can build trust in each other and our government.”
In 2016, Cavender reached out to Andy Lewis – a Republican undergoing his own political evolution – for advice on community service. With his support, Cavender volunteered to join the Haverford Human Relations Commission and now serves at the commission’s vice-chair. Her experience on the commission has revealed residents’ need for guidance on where to go for specific problems. With communication as a priority, she hopes to help township residents about the resources currently available and public assistance for which they may qualify.
As a commissioner focused on making government accessible and encouraging sustainable growth for Haverford, Cavender aims to give back to the township a measure of the support it has given to her and her family.