If the sum of a man is judged, in part, by his impact on others, then G. William Whitehurst’s life has a long measuring stick.
Typing his name into the title of the blog and the beginning of this sentence, seems a little odd to me. When I reported to his office as a Congressional intern, I was immediately told to call him “Dr. Bill”. Congressman was too formal. Last week, I attended a dinner that was honoring his life and accomplishments. Everyone referred to him as Dr Bill. He was always an educator, not a politician.
I have always known that he had an impact on me and my law practice. Every now and then, I hear his voice in my head, as a reminder of some lesson he taught me during my employment. The speeches and memories shared, of so many, also showed his impact on their lives.
Judges, past and current politicians, and people from all walks of life were there. I have attached Dr Bill’s Wikipedia, so you can quickly scan his background as an educator, TV commentator, author and retired US Congressman. At age 86, he is still quick with both serious and funny stories. The stories that were told, the other night, were like listening to living history.
I thought I would mention this dinner, and Dr. Bill, in my blog; to share one story, in particular, that has stayed with me for all these years. It’s why I hear his voice, as a reminder. The following job description was an extension of the story. First, let me tell you about my job at the Congressional office.
When I showed up to work, I reported to the Norfolk, Virginia Congressional office. At that time, the 2nd district Congressman maintained a DC office, but also an office in Virginia Beach, and in Norfolk. The DC office dealt with the every day matters in Washington. Dr Bill served on committees and subcommittees, that added many staffing responsibilities. Particularly important was the Armed Services Committee, since the 2nd District had the military installations.
The Norfolk and Beach offices were there to make sure we took care of Dr. Bill’s constituents. This meant handling matters that involved the Federal system, such as social security concerns; expedited passport request, and responding to questions about upcoming legislation that had been introduced during that current session.
At that time, the fax machine was still in the invention stage. So, if the DC office wanted something put out as a press release, they would call me and tell me to get the phone ready. That meant that I would literally put a phone receiver into this “cradle-like device”, at the other end, someone would do the same thing.
I would hear a high pitch beep. Soon, a slick piece of paper would come rolling out with words printing on it. It was the press release that had been drafted in DC. I would then take it over to the newspaper and drop it off at the reporter’s desk, who covered military affairs. I also drove it around to the TV stations, and dropped a copy off at each TV news desk. All this was done to make sure that Dr Bill’s constituents were kept updated on matters that impacted them.
Touring the White House has always been a highlight for many. At the Congressional office, we could help coordinate tours and make it easier for constituents, by getting them White House passes and credentials. At that time, you could even see extra rooms at the White House, when you had Congressional passes. Many teachers would call and line up passes for their upcoming trips with their students.
I remember the first time that Dr Bill came to the Norfolk Congressional office, after I had just started the internship. He called me into his office and asked questions about me. He seemed genuinely interested about my goals and aspirations.
At some point, I asked him about his speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives. I was having difficulty locating his speeches in the Congressional Record. It is the official transcript of the speeches and debates of each legislative session. In fact, many times, members will go to the floor without others in their seats, and give speeches, just to get them in the record.
Dr Bill smiled when I asked him about his speeches. He quickly let me know that he wasn’t one to put much emphasis on that. He said something like, “I don’t care to give speeches; my job is to take care of all my constituents”.
After my employment was coming to an end as an intern, Dr Bill offered me a job to stay right there, as a legislative aide. Throughout my time, my entire job revolved around taking care of those that called for Dr. Bill’s help, constituent service. He also insisted on signing his letters, while many others in the House and Senate, would use a machine to generate a signature that looked like an authentic signature.
In my law practice, I know that life can be full of distractions, to keep me from being focused on the important. Dr Bill was a reminder of what is important: taking care of my clients. He taught the lesson that, what was done in private was a whole lot more important than what was done for the headlines.
The other night at that dinner, I had the wonderful opportunity to remind him of our “first sit down” and thank him for the impact that he has had, on my life. Even when he stood and spoke, I realized that his stories were about others.