From the mid-‘50s to the mid-‘60s, four McAdams brothers from Chicago served as Pages. All were sponsored by Sen. Paul Douglas (D-Ill.), who met the boys’ father, Frank Jr., after both were severely wounded in World War II. The two became life-long friends and were active at the grassroots level in local, state and national political campaigns – as were the boys, who remember a kitchen table loaded with political leaflets that needed to be stuffed and neighbors’ doors just asking to be knocked on during campaign seasons.
Frank III served from January to June, 1956. He recounts the confusion many Pages experience during their first days on the job, still learning the Senators’ names and faces: “I was summoned to get Sen. John Kennedy (D-Mass) for a phone call from the Associated Press. I found him and said he had a phone call. Mission accomplished, I thought. The next day AP called Sen. Kennedy’s office to clarify a quote, only to find out that the quote actually was from Robert Kennedy, then counsel for the McClellan Committee. Obviously, I approached the wrong Kennedy brother for the phone call! That afternoon Page Supervisor Jay McDonnell lined us up to see who got Robert for the phone call instead of Sen. John. At the end of the line, I was sweating bullets. When the Supervisor demanded, ‘Was it YOU who summoned Robert Kennedy?’ Thinking quickly, I asked, ‘Who is Robert Kennedy?’ Everyone laughed, and I was promptly sent to the flash cards. No one ever found out my role in this incident.
“In the Spring of 1956, I was invited to Sen. Douglas’ house for Sunday dinner. He often spoke highly of young ‘Jack’ Kennedy and even suggested that he hire Ted Sorensen as a speech writer. On this occasion, in a serious tone, he informed me that Jack Kennedy was going to make a presidential run. He said it would be a tough fight but that the Kennedy family had ‘resources.’ At the Democratic Convention later that year, Kennedy lost a Vice Presidential bid to Estes Kefauver – the only time he suffered a political defeat. He then resolved to begin campaigning for 1960, fulfilling Sen. Douglas’ prediction.”
From February to September 1958, brother Mike McAdams took his turn as a Page. He recalls appearing on a popular television show called “Youth Wants to Know,” taped in Washington and syndicated nationwide. It featured a panel of teenagers who posed questions about current events to legislators and business leaders.
“I wasn’t actually on the panel, but a Page buddy and I decided to go to the studio and act like we were confirmed participants,” Mike said. “All of a sudden we were on the panel! It was fun to have my Senator, Paul Douglas, as one of the adult participants. The question we lobbed was something on everyone’s mind at the time: Should Jimmy Hoffa, embattled leader of the Teamsters Union, resign? Yes, was the emphatic answer. “
Mike remembers the many characters in charge of both cloakrooms, all former Pages, “Bobby Baker, Joe Stewart and Dicky Darling on the Democratic side. Duke Zeller on the Republican side, who later went to work for the Teamsters.
Both Dennis McAdams, Summer ’62 and Brian McAdams, Summers ’65 and ’66, recall Medicare legislation as being some of the most significant they witnessed – and such a political hot potato it was considered in two separate sessions three years apart. Former Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas), Vice President 1962 and President in 1965, and was highly involved both times.
Dennis remembers that at the time the vote was taken in 1962, “The gallery was unusually full, and we Pages knew this was an important vote. LBJ came to preside over the roll-call. My Senators, Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) and Paul Douglas, were on opposite sides. The bill was defeated not by a Republican-Democrat split but by conservative Southern Democrats versus liberal Northerners.”
On another occasion, Dennis – pale and nursing the sniffles – held the door for Johnson as he briskly left the Floor. “He made eye contact, and without breaking stride said, ‘Yew don’t look good, boy.’ “
Also during that Summer, the Senate considered the bill to authorize Tel-Star, the first communications satellite. During the debate, Dennis recalls that Sen. Wayne Morse (R, Ind., D-Oregon) arrived with a rose in his lapel, a signal that he intended to filibuster. He gained the Floor and began to speak. After about 15 minutes, Sen. Dirksen made a point of order, questioning whether a quorum was present. It wasn’t. The Senate adjourned and the filibuster was over.
Although sponsored by a Democratic Senator, Dennis was sent over to the Republican side, not just occasionally, but for the entire summer.
In 1965, Brian watched the passage and signing of Medicare and the Voting Rights Act in the same month. “LBJ’s arm twisting on behalf of both bills was apparent to all,” he reports. “So many times during debate I remember Patrick Hines from the Democratic cloakroom standing in the middle aisle, announcing, ‘Mr. President, a message from the President of the United States.’ The written message would then be inserted into the Congressional Record.
“The Voting Rights Act was actually signed in the Lincoln Room, a smallish space behind the Senate Floor,” Brian says. But the historic significance of the legislation was so profound that right after the signing, President Johnson made a speech in the Capitol Rotunda attended by hundreds, he notes.
“My sponsor, Sen. Douglas, was friendly and approachable,” Brian said. “Countless times during the two summers I was there, we would find ourselves walking to work, or back to work, together, and discuss legislation. He treated everybody with respect, myself included.”
Brian points out that students of politics will take notice that two former members of Douglas’ staff later went on to become Democratic Senators from Illinois: the late Paul Simon and Dick Durbin, currently Minority Whip.
After their Page terms, all four McAdams brothers served in the military.
Frank has been a journalist and a sailor for Windjammer Cruises Inc., carrying passengers from the Los Angeles Geographic Society. He is currently an author and screenwriter and is an adjunct professor in the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California. One of his books, “Vietnam Rough Riders: A Convoy Commander’s Memoir, published in 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Dana Point, California
Mike is a station engineer specializing In HVAC and lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Dennis is a former teacher and has had a graphics business for more than 30 years. He has a USCG Master’s license and charter sailboats in the summer. He lives in Wheaton, Illinois.
Brian, now retired, sold and developed real estate and was a union stagehand for the JFK Center in Washington, D.C. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.