By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
“I like to tell people I married the best politician in Virginia,” Don Beyer, U.S. representative for Virginia’s 8th district, said.
It’s hard to find a better summation of Don and Megan Beyer’s 35-year marriage, which has survived political campaigns for state and federal government posts plus an ambassadorship in Switzerland. The couple has navigated the perils and demands of political life together, yet their marriage remains as strong as ever.
Watching them interact, even over the virtual barrier of Zoom, they have the natural, lived-in chemistry of a couple that has been together for decades but the lively banter and loving glances of newlyweds. Megan, a reporter, activist and advocate of women’s rights, is a live wire, with an infectious laugh and charisma to spare. Don, surprisingly soft-spoken for a congressman, weaves in and out of his wife’s stories, interjecting sarcastic, casually hilarious jokes or taking center stage with his in-depth knowledge of Virginia politics.
Like a jazz band, they know when to cede the floor to their partner’s solo flights of fancy and when to jump in with their own flourishes. But it took a while to get to this point, not so much in their marriage but in the early goings of their relationship.
A slow start
The couple first met at the June 1984 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual fundraiser for Democrats. Don was working on the campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Gerald Baliles, while Megan was there as a reporter. Their first interaction was an interview, but despite the formal context of their meet-cute, they both felt an almost immediate connection.
Megan said she was moved by Don’s heartfelt speeches and ability to rally people with his words, which was also her first inkling that he could have a successful run at political office himself.
“I would be like, ‘Down, girl’ because I would get these goosebumps because they were great speeches,” Megan said. “It really was because of his heart and his commitment to the country and all that, and it came across in those speeches.”
“What was it for you?” Megan asked Don about their early connection.
“I’m trying to remember,” Don volleyed back to her with a wry smile.
“It was everything,” he added. “She was so smart, incredibly smart and incredibly charming and positive and bubbly and beautiful. There was nothing not to like. I both had a crush, but I was also comfortable with her from the very beginning.”
After two years of chatting at political events, Megan began to wonder if Don would ever make a move.
“I thought he liked me, but he never did ask me out,” Megan said.
“I was too shy to ask her out, especially a reporter? I mean, that would be too dangerous,” Don joked.
It got to a point where Megan was making increasingly overt comments in order to get Don to ask her out. Eventually, Megan said she “had given up on him,” but the two eventually reconnected at a party at Quigley’s in D.C. Don’s friend was looking for single men to attend, and Don begrudgingly agreed to make an appearance.
“I sat out in the car for 20 minutes and promised myself I was going in for one beer and then I was leaving,” Don said.
Neither knew the other would be at the party, but they naturally found one another and struck up a conversation. Coincidentally, Don had bought tickets for a “completely depressing Scandinavian play” at Arena Stage the next night and could not find anyone to go with him. By the end of the night, Don had finally asked Megan out for their first date. By the end of the following night, both Don and Megan would never go on a first date again.
Their first date on April 10, 1986, involved dinner at The Palm in D.C., the play at Arena Stage and an evening walk through one of D.C.’s most iconic locations.
“He took me to the Lincoln Memorial, and he knew everything you could possibly know about Lincoln,” Megan said. “I found out later he was a park ranger his first year out of college, and he was a docent at the Lincoln Memorial. I was like, ‘The man is brilliant! He knows everything!’ … That’s like catnip to me.”
The next few dates took place in rapid succession, one at a baseball game, followed by a 12-hour date that went from Sunday brunch to rock climbing to a poetry reading and then dinner.
“It was one of those things where once we got going, we were together,” Megan said.
“Then I basically recall being with you every evening until we got married,” Don added. “I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s what I remember.”
The Beyer test
According to Don, he knew pretty early on that he wanted to marry Megan, but he had made a rule for himself that they needed to date for at least a year before proposing to her. Don had previously been married for 14 years before getting divorced. He had two children from his first marriage, and the divorce impacted his approach to his new relationship, Megan noted.
“He was vetting me. He had had a marriage before and that wasn’t what he had planned in life, to have a divorce, ever,” Megan said.
In retrospect, Megan said she realizes how many of the moments leading up Don’s proposal in April 1987 were “tests” in one way or another. He had her take the Myers-Briggs personality test to gauge their compatibility and even had them both get certified to summit climb Mount Rainier.
“Now that I know him, he’s a guy who makes lists and checks things off it,” Megan said. “On the way back from Seattle, he’s asleep and he has this list and one of the things on the list was ‘get married.’ And I’m like, ‘I sure hope it’s me. I did pass the climbing test.’”
One week shy of a year, Don made reservations at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia where he planned to propose to Megan over dinner. He had it all planned out, with wine, champagne, and flowers.
“Then she blew it,” Don chuckled.
“I looked out the window and I said, ‘Full moon and he’s ordering champagne. Don, do you have a question you want to ask me?’” Megan said.
Don delayed his dinner proposal plans: “That’s incredibly trite. I wouldn’t do that,” he said sarcastically to Megan – only to propose to her later on a walk through Little Washington. The day after Don proposed, the couple had what they claim is their first and only fight – about who would be invited to the wedding.
An Alexandria wedding
Given that Megan was born and raised in Alexandria, it only made sense to hold the wedding in the Port City. The Beyers were married at Immanuel Church-on-theHill on Sept. 19, 1987. Twenty-three years later, in 2010, the chapel where the Beyers were married burned to the ground.
“We haven’t quite figured out what your wedding venue burning down has to say about you,” Don said.
The Beyers held their wedding reception at an iconic Alexandria location: Woodlawn & Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House. Despite the beautiful location, more than a week of rain prior to the wedding put a literal damper on the Beyers’ special day.
“It was like a monsoon. It was so terrible,” Megan said. “It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘These are really good friends of mine hanging out and standing in this freezing cold.”
Given Don’s involvement in campaigning, politics dominated the evening, as the talk of the town was former Republican U.S. Sen. Paul Trible’s decision not to run for re-election after one term, news he announced the weekend of the wedding. The wedding was just the beginning of how politics would dominate the Beyers’ lives for the next three decades.
Life on the campaign trail
Within six months of getting married, Don was off and running with his first campaign for Virginia lieutenant governor. According to Don, he always had an interest in running but had never found the right time. Fortunately, in Megan, he found a partner who was just as passionate about his political career as he was.
“I had covered all these statewide candidates, and I was like, ‘Don, you are so much better than so many of these people,’” Megan said. “He used to introduce Baliles, and I’d say, ‘He ought to be the candidate.’ So, I was all in.”
The demands of campaigning were intense, but Megan was with Don, if not in front of him, every step of the way. The 1989 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor was close between Beyer and longtime Virginia politician Dick Saslaw. After the Democratic Caucus in 1989, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor was still indeterminate.
“There were 459 uncommitted delegates, so we put all their names up on this big board and [Megan] and I called every one every day,” Don said. “After about three weeks, we had a majority. She’s hard to say no to.”
Beyer would go on to defeat Republican State Sen. Edwina Dalton and serve with Gov. Douglas Wilder. He was re-elected in 1993, defeating Republican Michael Farris in the lieutenant governor’s race, while Republicans George Allen and Jim Gilmore were elected governor and attorney general, respectively, on the ballot that year. While lieutenant governor, Don served as president of the Virginia Senate.
The campaigning didn’t stop there for Don. He ran as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1997 but lost to Gilmore. He then continued working on campaigns for presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama, serving on the latter’s National Finance Council. Once Obama was elected, Beyer was asked by the president to head the transition in the Department of Commerce and was nominated to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 2009.
In 2014, Beyer re-entered the political campaign arena, running for Virginia’s 8th congressional district seat, which represents Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County. He won against Republican Micah Edmond. Beyer has occupied the 8th district seat since then, winning re-election in 2016, 2018 and 2020. He is currently running again for re-election.
Megan was actively involved in her husband’s political career from the start, but she admitted it was often challenging, even before they had their daughter Claire in 1992, right before the 1993 election.
“We were both hard-driving career people anyway, so it was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you too many times this week,’ but once you have kids, it gets a little harder,” Megan said. “One person had to take control of the kids, and so that was me. In the first race, when Claire was a baby, I still did a lot of traveling. We used a big motor home and she would come with me, and Don would campaign in one place and I’d campaign in another.”
At first, Megan split her time between Alexandria and Richmond, with reporting jobs in each location, but dividing her time quickly became draining. She eventually moved permanently to Alexandria, where her family still lives. With Megan in Alexandria and Don in Richmond or elsewhere in Virginia, they hardly saw one another for the first 10 years of their marriage.
“I was walking down the street in year 10 of marriage, and someone said, ‘You guys look like you’ve only been married less than a year,’” Don said. “I said, ‘That’s because we’ve only been together for less than a year.’”
After Claire was born, Don said he realized managing his work-life balance would be key to the long-term success of his political career and his marriage. He said Frank Wolf, the former Republican representative for Virginia’s 10th district seat who was known for not campaigning on Sundays, served as a role model.
“I thought if I could keep Tuesday night and Thursday night available for [my children from my first marriage], Donnie and Steph, and Sunday, there’s 168 hours in the week and I have to sleep 48 of those hours, I still have 100 hours left,” Don said. “And if I can’t win in 100 hours of work a week, I probably don’t deserve to win.”
Bonds built with time
Looking back on the last 35 years, Don and Megan marveled at how their relationship had developed and deepened in that time.
“One of the things that I’ve been really impressed with is the marriage keeps reinventing itself,” Don said. “I think the marriage we have now is very different from the one we had five years ago, which is different from the one 10 years ago.”
Although their marriage has changed from a few all-too brief moments together in the first 10 years to the intense bonding experience of the ambassador life in Europe, they both admitted the connection that first brought them together has never waivered.
“I was so convinced that he was very special, and I have not been unconvinced. My mother said, ‘There’s probably something about him you don’t know yet. You’re going to find out. It’s not going to be good.’ He was better than I thought he was. I think I’m very lucky,” Megan said, choking back tears.
“I learned to completely trust her, not just trust her in the sense of the marriage but just in terms of trusting her judgement,” Don said. “She’s almost always right, and I just need to accept that. I always feel that I’m so lucky to be married to somebody for 35 years and love her at least as much as I did when I started. There’s been no dimming of this at all. Also, we’ve teased each other [about] who would we marry after the other died. I don’t have anybody on my list.”
“And believe me, he would have a list,” Megan laughed