By Gregory A. Hinrichsen, Ph.D., Senate ‘68
In a long-forgotten box, I found a diary I had written as a 16-year-old Page in 1967-1968. I kept it on folded and numbered pages of Senate stationery, the beautiful linen paper with the bold blue “U.S. Senate” embossed at the top. What struck me while reading the diary was how my perspective matured during just five months in Washington and how observant and candid a teenager can be. I also re-lived how truly awe-struck I was to have this unique opportunity.
A few anecdotes from the diary…
I puzzled over the frequent and passionate floor speeches by Wayne Morse, Republican and then later Democrat, an anti-war senator from Oregon. I noted the “here we go again” looks on other Senator’s faces as Morse rose to make yet another criticism of the Vietnam war. Months later, I made a diary entry that spoke with admiration of Senator Morse’s commitment and determination — even though I didn’t agree with his position. My opinions gradually changed. As fate would have it, 40 years later I worked for another Senator from Oregon, Ron Wyden, a Democrat. Senator Wyden still serves today and has a picture of himself and Wayne Morse in his office. Wayne Morse – a man whose courage to be in an outspoken minority caught my attention — was Wyden’s political mentor.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey was on the floor of the Senate. A Page was reading a French textbook. The Vice President joked, “Son, we don’t speak French here.” I thought quickly about all the strange new words I had learned in Washington – in English and Latin – like “cloture” and “sine die,” and remarked to Humphrey, “Sometimes you wouldn’t know whether or not we speak a foreign language here, Mr. Vice-President.” Humphrey laughed, asked my name, where I was from, and gave me a Vice Presidential tie clasp that I still have.
I strategized how to go the State of the Union address by Lyndon Johnson in January 1968, and wrote in the diary that “Fishbait Miller [the legendary House Doorkeeper] doesn’t want Pages there for security reasons.” Step one of my plan was to work very late in the Senate cloakroom, right up to the time of the speech. Then my opportunity presented itself, and much to my surprise, it proved to be quite easy. The other Pages and I simply joined the end of a procession of Senators who walked, two by two, from the Senate to the House, down the long corridor that connects the two chambers. Along the way, a woman in a crowd who watched the procession exclaimed to her son, “Look! There are the Pages.” I almost burst with pride.
Dorothy Burns was assistant to Mark Trice, Senate “Secretary to the Minority” (and had been a Page himself.) Dorothy was beloved by us and we regarded her “the Pages’ mother.” She helped me gain a brush with celebrity. One day she quietly told me there were rumors that President Lyndon Johnson was going to have lunch with Hale Boggs (D-La., who would later become House Majority Leader and is the father of political commentator Cokie Roberts). It happened that Boggs’ office was near Trice’s. At the appointed hour, I came up from the Senate floor and stood, as if I had an actual duty to perform, by an elevator that led to the corridor to Boggs’ office. Sure enough, flanked by Secret Service agents, Johnson emerged from the elevator. I noted in my diary that the President was so very tall and that he looked so very old. The napkin the President used for lunch (that Dorothy swiped) revealed that Boggs had indeed served his famous shrimp gumbo to his august guest.
The final pages of the diary are especially poignant. I am eager to go home – I so very much miss my friends and family. I am also so very sad to leave – I’ve had such an incredible and life- changing experience. I wrote that I now understood the term, “I’ve got a lump in my throat,” as I said goodbye to Dorothy Burns and my other Capitol Hill friends.
Greg Hinrichsen is a psychologist on the faculty of the Dept. of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, where he lives. He was sponsored by Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill.