Opinion & Blogs » Letters

Capitol Hill Memories of Sen. John Warner


Thanks to for the insightful profile, “John Warner's Big Finish” (Cover Story, July 30). Sen. Warner has changed over the years, but haven't we all?  Democrats were contemptuous of him as a candidate and new senator. (“Senator Taylor” and “Senator Blow-Dry” were some of the printable names for him in his early Senate career.)

But as a young staffer on Capitol Hill for a Northern Virginia House Democrat at the time, I was impressed by him from the start of his Senate career by the little things he did with great care, when no one was looking.

First, before he was sworn in, he and Mrs. Warner (yes, that Mrs. Warner) held a small dinner party for Virginia Capitol Hill staffers, Republican and Democratic, just to get acquainted. No members and no press, just us. Next, he personally visited each Virginia House member — alone and without staff — to ask about local issues important to the member and to find issues he could champion on the Senate side as their Virginia colleague, regardless of party or ideological differences.  

My boss — then Rep. Herb Harris, D-8th, — was working to expand Manassas National Battlefield Park and protect it from sprawl, and he had clashed with Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. over the bill. The freshman senator and wife Elizabeth Taylor spent their next available Sunday afternoon walking the battlefield — with a surprised park ranger, I am sure. The senator came back convinced of the need to protect the Brawner tract and other threatened parcels. In a short time, he convinced Byrd and the park was expanded.

So green is nothing new to Warner.

In his second month in the Senate, Mr. Warner was scheduled to do the ceremonial reading of Washington's farewell address to Congress on Feb. 22. It is an annual pro forma session; no other work was scheduled and most members had left town. Something like two feet of snow fell the night before and few expected the new senator to make it in from his farm 40 miles away in Middleburg. But early that morning, Warner put on his duck shoes and overcoat, fired up his Jeep, and drove in alone through icy and unplowed roads to gravel the empty chamber into session on time and read Washington's address into the Congressional Record.

These are small and overlooked examples of the traits that have made John Warner successful and respected in the Senate: his hard work, his patriotism and sense of duty, his instinctive willingness to move past partisanship to help the state, the country and the planet. And despite Mr. Warner's affinity for the camera, he has always exhibited these traits behind the scenes and when nobody (much) was watching.

That is one part of the Warner record that hasn't changed.

Charles Nance

Add a comment