Happy Birthday Who?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Kelly Garvey
Director, Tocqueville Society
July 29th marks the 209th anniversary of the birth of Alexis de Tocqueville, a man who was described in his day as a writer, scholar, and diplomat. Today, we find a wide range of labels (from sensible to dramatic) attached to his name, such as:  visionary, champion, and prophet.

At Metro United Way, his name and legacy are honored through the United Way Tocqueville Society, which was founded over 30 years ago to deepen the connection and support of the most generous community-minded leaders. The name honors the nineteenth-century Frenchman and his admiration for the spirit of volunteering for the common good.



I thought I should get to know more about Alexis de Tocqueville before bestowing his birthday blessings. (Thanks to libertarianism.org and learningtogive.org helping me!) After all, he is one the most oft-quoted historical scholars on American political life and his writings are used in support of countless causes and platforms.

The son of French Aristocrats, he had an insatiable curiosity and a passion for learning. That passion ultimately brought him to the United States in 1831 at the age of 26. In his definitive work, “Democracy in America” (a “light” read at 940 pages!), he recognized, admired, and applauded Americans for many key attributes, including not only their strong spirit of volunteerism, but their efforts to form associations where they could work together in pursuit of the common good.



“I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly every failed to lend a faithful support to one another.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

Why do we still find it irresistible to use Tocqueville quotes? How can this stuff still be relatable or relevant? Perhaps historian Daniel J. Boorstin sums it up best. He says that while others of his day were providing more acute observations and telling us about those “curious” early Americans, Tocqueville tells us about ourselves. He speaks to us every day.

I think that is so true, and I believe there is no better namesake and no stronger representation of the spirit of our Metro United Way Tocqueville Society, which is made up of more than 300 of the leading philanthropists in our community. They each contribute at least $10,000 annually and are recognized both locally and nationally as Tocqueville Society members. You would be hard pressed to find a group more committed to generous philanthropy in the areas of education, financial stability and healthy lives! They are volunteer-led and also the fastest growing segment of our annual campaign.

Alexis de Tocqueville
I think that if he were around today Tocqueville would be inspired by the generous members of our society!

Find out more about Metro United Way's Tocqueville Society, the work they do and how to become involved!


Kelly was thrilled to return to Metro United Way in July 2014 as the Director, Tocqueville Society after spending 2 ½ years in a leadership role at Neighborhood House, a Metro United Way investment partner and an Excellence Academy early learning center in the Portland Neighborhood.

She has worn many hats at Metro United Way prior to her newest role, starting with Manager of the Southwest Resource Center and then as Director of Engagement Initiatives. Before moving back to her hometown of Louisville in 2007, Kelly worked for City Harvest, a hunger-relief agency in New York City. 

Kelly has served on the board for the Blackacre Conservancy and was honored to be a 2013 Leadership Louisville Bingham Fellow. She loves to spend time in her garden, bird watch, and play the role of amateur entomologist.


She is married to a native New Yorker whom she actually met in Louisville. They enjoy an ongoing friendly rivalry between her favorite team, the New York Mets, and his, the New York Yankees.

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