Bucks County Leadership: Dr. Vail Garvin, President & CEO of Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Vail Garvin headshot

Dr. Vail Garvin, President & Chief Executive Officer at Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce spoke with BUCKSCO Today about growing up in Levittown, overcoming polio as a young teenager, and how her struggle to overcome that debilitating illness led her to a career in healthcare.

Noting that her chamber will be celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2022, Dr. Garvin details how the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce is letting the world know the county’s small and medium-sized businesses are open and hiring.

Finally, Vail speaks about her love of family, her upcoming 25th wedding anniversary, her love of reading, and what gives her hope.

Where were you born and where did you grow up, Vail?

I was born the oldest of two children in Wilmington, North Carolina, and then moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, with my parents. When I was in seventh grade we moved to Snowball Gate in Levittown.

What did your parents do?

My father was a major in the Army, and my mother was an Army nurse. They met in Puerto Rico. After they left the Army, he worked as a chemical engineer for Carroll Engineering Company in Trenton.

Dr. Vail Garvin Age 5
Dr. Vail Garvin at age 5 and her parents.

What memories do you have of growing up in Levittown?

At the age of 12, I became the sixth — and thankfully last — polio victim in Bucks County.

It was during that difficult time that I saw what a community that comes together can accomplish. Neshaminy Middle School, Bell Atlantic, the community of wonderful people, and my parents raised the money to install a telephone line from my bed to the school. This meant that I never missed a day of school as I attended each class through my telephone “box.”

Out of crisis, comes opportunity! The healthcare field was my focus and my heart became and still is my heart.

One day, after I had learned to walk again, the Neshaminy Band showed up on my front lawn so that I could walk out and play my piccolo with them. What a thrill. I do so appreciate all the effort that was put into making this possible.

What lessons did you take from that experience, Vail?

Having rehabilitated from polio taught me to appreciate every day, to study hard, and to focus my career into helping others. I love what Winston Churchill said: “You get a living by what you get; you have a life by what you give!”

What jobs did you have growing up?

As a student, I worked as a candy striper at Lower Bucks Hospital. 

Did you play any sports in high school?

I loved playing the flute and became first chair, first flute in both the county band/orchestra as well as the state’s.

I loved playing the flute so much I almost went into music. Three months before I graduated from high school, I changed my mind and told my dad I loved science and wanted to be a doctor.

What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager, Vail?

Because I was practicing my flute and studying so much, I really didn’t listen to all that much music.

Where did you go to college?

My pick of colleges were Bucknell University, Duke University, and Emory University. I fell in love with Emory and eventually received my Doctorate in Public Administration from Nova University. 

Looking back, was Emory a good choice for you?

Oh my, yes! Emory gave me a wonderful educational foundation. While at Emory, several professors in the nursing department recruited me to study nursing. I got my undergraduate degree in Nursing and eventually my doctorate in Public and Business Administration.

Dr. Vail Garvin & sons
Dr. Vail Garvin with her two sons, Tom (left) and John.

Looking back on your career, Vail, who were the people who saw promise and opened doors for you?

I am grateful to Bernie Korman and Dr. Leonard Weinstein from RH Medical Corp for their guidance and support.  Through their educational reimbursement program, I was able to pursue my education.  As a mother of two young sons, that was critically important to me. 

I enjoyed my tenure as Senior Vice President of Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. Additionally, I served as a Blue Cross Board member for a number of years. 

Additionally, As the third woman Board member of the Union League in Philadelphia, I met my wonderful husband.  We are celebrating our 25th Anniversary next week.  Our entire family is gathering to both celebrate Thanksgiving as well as this important mile mark!

As we close out 2021, Vail, what are your priorities?

As we close out 2021 it is my prayer that we will leave this pandemic behind us. The Chamber is focusing on working with our small and medium-sized businesses who are still struggling to fully re-engage after this past year.  We need to let the world know that the Bucks County Business Community is open and hiring!

Next year we will be honoring our local first responders for the 50th year! Think about that! This Chamber is also celebrating its 75th Anniversary! We were founded in 1946 on September 17th.

Over the past year, the chamber has produced many excellent programs featuring our business members and outstanding and relevant outside luminaires.   

For example, we just hosted our two-day Annual Business Conference. The Executive Vice President of Independence Blue Cross and his CIO Mike Vannera spoke to the Chamber about the INNOVATION LAB that they founded with the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Then, we hosted Captain John Jackson from the Naval War College who spoke about Drones that “swim, fly, and crawl.” Concurrently, he wrote a book called, “One Nation Under Drones” that we also sold at the conference.

What do you do with all your free time, Vail?

Dr. Vail Garvin and her husband Ronald C. Unterberger.

I always live ‘Family First!’ My husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary on November 27th. My two sons and all their children and all my husband’s children and grandchildren are gathering at the Union League in Philadelphia to celebrate our anniversary with us.

Do you read much?

Yes, I love to read.  Am always reading a book or article.  I love history and spy novels.  At one point, I applied at Willow Grove Naval Base to join Naval Intelligence on weekends. However, I had waited one year too long.  I was over the age by one year!

Having said that, I became a Trustee for the Naval War College for over twenty years and have formed a Veteran’s Committee at the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce.

This Chamber has been an intricate part of my life for the past twenty-one years.  A great organization of wonderful people committed to the betterment of our community!

What gives you hope, Vail?

Everything gives me hope!  There is so much in this world that is positive! We just need to surround ourselves with optimistic people in our lives. 

Finally, Vail, what is the best piece of information you ever received?

So many great people have given me advice along the way. If I were to compile it into a single statement, it would be to keep dreaming, stay the course and keep on helping people. That’s who I am.

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