By Robert Lucke
Pat Conway has spent most of his adult life honing his people skills. Being the assistant principal and principal at Havre High School for some 24 years and a Hill County commissioner since 1995, Conway's life is made up of dealing with people.
Conway was raised 30 miles west of Havre near Gildford, where his parents farmed. He stayed in Gildford through the eighth grade, then moved to Havre, where he graduated from Havre Central High in 1957.
He experimented with college, both at Seattle University and Montana State University before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1958.
"After basic training I went to Germany for 18 months with the Third Armored Division. Hell on Wheels,'" he said, smiling.
It was there that he became good friends with Elvis Presley, who was stationed there too.
"One highlight of my time there was spending a lot of time with Elvis Presley. He offered me a job at Graceland to look after his horses when we got back home," Conway said.
Conway didn't take the job, but never forgot Presley.
"As I knew him, he was a cordial, understanding and considerate individual who stood side by side with me at inspections and drove the same roads as I did and never tried to evade his responsibilities as a soldier of the U.S. Army," Conway said.
After Conway returned to Montana, he remained in contact with Presley for several years.
In 1960 Conway enrolled at the University of Montana. He majored in education, graduated in 1963 and went to work as a teacher in Stevensville, returned to the University of Montana for his master's degree and moved back to Havre where he taught for a year, then was made assistant principal and later principal of Havre High School.
"Those were busy years," Conway said. "Most of the time I was farming, raising cattle, being assistant principal and athletic director as well."
Conway was made Montana athletic director of the year in 1974.
Conway resigned as principal of Havre High in 1992. He ran for and was elected to the Hill County Study Commission. Then- Hill County Commissioner Nora Nelson retired and Conway was appointed to fill her term until the next general election. In 1997 he ran to fill the remainder of her term and in 1999 won his own term as Hill County commissioner.
Conway and his wife, Arlene, have three children: David, who lives in Moorpark, Calif,; Laura, who lives in Missoula; and Debra, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz.
Conway explained how the events of Sept. 11 have changed the lives of those working in the Hill County Courthouse.
"September 11th changed things in the courthouse in that meetings that we go to now, like workshops and things, are centered more around terrorism," he said. "But what has not changed is that we had already developed procedures for disasters of all kinds and procedures for our courthouse security. And even at the high school we had procedures in place to handle emergency situations."
Conway said the work at the courthouse that has been most satisfying for him is developing personnel policies and dealing with Beaver Creek Park. Early in his courthouse years he worked closely with CTEP funds that led to improvements in both Wahkpa Chu'gn buffalo jump and helped with the saline problems at the Hill County Fairgrounds.
"We have established county goals which we review every year and the jail was a huge project," Conway said. "And we are still working on the Beaver Creek Highway. Just dealing with 1,788 miles of roads in Hill County is a job."
If there is a down side to Conway's present job, it is personnel.
"One of the things that is troublesome for me is dealing with personnel," he said. "By that, I mean the problems that might arise with employees and how to properly manage those problems. When we are dealing with personnel issues, they can be troublesome."
In terms of just plain fun, is it more fun to be the principal or a commissioner?
"I had better say a commissioner, right now," Conway said, laughing. "I have enjoyed both positions. The thing I miss about Havre High is the interaction with my fellow colleagues and the students. But working as a principal, you are working with the public, which is the prime responsibility of a commissioner as well."
Conway thought a bit more and said he liked both equally, then added, "But as a high school principal, I did have my own office and bathroom."