A public servant returns to private life


Wandering through the back streets of my neighborhood on a warm summer afternoon, I found Sen. John Warner (R-VA) tending to his sunflowers and begonias. He invited me over so our dogs could romp in his yard. A frequent cure for writers block is taking my dog for a walk. And on Monday, finding the right words to describe Warners illustrious career had caused some word blockage. Luckily, I live in Alexandria, and here you never know who youre going to run into.

As our dogs played, we talked about the newspaper business, our families and his retirement announcement in Charlottesville, a real moment in time that I’d attended on Friday. It was a pretty nice event, eh? said Warner, clutching some clippers and a watering bucket.

Coasting into retirement after three decades in the Senate, Warner should no longer need to seek the approval of anyone, be they journalists or voters. But these days the courtly and humble Virginia gentleman spends a lot of time thanking the people whove given him a marvelous life.

On Thursday evening, after conferring all week with his wife and his grown children, Warner said he sat down to write a short note to all Virginians. He scribbled his letter in long-hand, late into the evening, because he felt some of his thoughts were so personal that I had to put them in writing.

With e-mails the dominant form of communicating these days, Warner’s eloquent missive to My Fellow Virginians harkens back to simpler times, when the spirit of bi-partisanship and getting along for the common good was the norm. I wanted to express my profound appreciation for all that so many have done for me, Warner.

Turning to the U-VA students gathered, he urged them to seek out public service in their lifetime. Dont worry about becoming a senator, he cautioned. Come talk to me before doing that. Looking back over a long career of generous opportunities in public service, he had been too busy to keep tabs. Surprisingly, I’d never sat down and added it all up until last night, he said. I added up a total of 45 years in which Id been privileged to be a public servant.

A marvelous family of brothers, sisters, parents and children had given him counsel over those years. My mother lived to be 94 years old, giving me advice up until the last breath she drew, about how she disagreed with the votes I cast the day before.

By his side stood Jeanne Vander Myde Warner, a lifelong Alexandria resident and Old Town Realtor he married four years ago, and a very devoted and loving wife whos listened to me for the past six months, Warner said. “To be or not to be, to go on or not to go on …. and patiently saying whichever way you go I will support you and follow you … I thank you, dear wife.

Warner has made Alexandria his home for two decades, participating in its parades, its civic and community life. A descendant of Scots, he parades in his colorful kilt in the Scottish Walk every December, and last August came to the Old Town clubhouse of the Alexandria Boys and Girls Club to announce $500,000 congressional funding to help revamp their facilities.

All of us in Alexandria have been so fortunate to have had such an honorable, effective, eloquent, and dedicated United States senator in our midst, said Gant Redmon, the Old Town lawyer who’s known Warner for 45 years. Hell get a well-deserved rest from his public labors as he returns to private life in 2009.

In the marble hallways of Capitol Hill, Warner was known as a highly respected lawmaker and consensus-builder at the center of debate over military issues. Lately, he had been wrestling with the United States deepening involvement in Iraq.

Over the last few weeks he seemed to have lost the spring in his step, said Chip Reid, NBC’s chief congressional correspondent. Hed be walking down the hall with his head down, deep in thought, his hand swiping the wall as he walked. He looked more like a senator on his way out than heading for re-election.

At the age of 80, Warner clearly wrestled with his decision to seek re-election to another six-year term in the Senate. With the nation struggling with an unpopular war, Warners expertise is more relevant than ever. This is the most complex series of problems Ive ever seen in my life, he said. We are living in dangerous times.

By early 2009, the job of solving those issues will be ceded to others. And John Wilson Warner can spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. And, no doubt, in his beloved garden. I have done my best, as I humbly say, Warner said Friday. So I say with great humility and thankfulness in my heart, I yield my ground so others may advance.

Master distillers descend on Mount Vernon
It was a jovial moment Thursday evening at George Washingtons tavern, the Inn at Mount Vernon. Under a flickering candlelight, four master distillers raised a glass to one of Americas earliest whiskey producers, General Washington.

Our nations benefactor, our top war general, founding father and first farmer was one of the Colonial periods foremost whiskey entrepreneurs. Washington had his own distillery, and a profitable one, too. His newly-reconstructed still opened with great fanfare in March and is the nations only distillery that authentically demonstrates 18th-century distilling techniques.

All week, the master distillers hauled 100-pound barrels to the stills, where they stirred, cooked and perfected a few batches of rye whiskey, as tourists gazed on. This week was all about replicating what happened 200 years ago, seed-to-barrel, said Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernons director of preservation. Its been an ongoing lab experiment.”

A great distiller and a great general came together to make this happen, said Ben Jenkins of the Distilled Spirits Council, which pitched in $1.5 million for the distillery.

Souvenir bottles of the rye whiskey go on sale at the distillery in Spring 2008.

Editors Note: With the advent of City Limits, by John Arundel, The Alexandria Times is pleased to have former About Town author Kathryn Streeter as its newest writer on board focusing on new businesses and the people who make up this city by the Potomac. Look for Kathryns profiles in all upcoming issues of The Alexandria Times.