By James Pickett Wesberry, Jr., House Page 1949-1951
We Pages hated Special Orders because they usually meant overtime for us. Members reserved time in advance, usually five to 15 minutes – occasionally up to 30 minutes — for speeches at the end of the day’s session when all business was complete and most Members had left the Floor. The purpose was to get the speech into the Congressional Record. These reservations were printed in advance in the Daily Digest so we would know ahead of time how many short speeches were planned.
We were startled when Richard Nixon (R-Calif.) reserved a full hour for an afternoon Special Order. As the date approached, a new Daily Digest came out indicating the time request had been increased to two hours, something absolutely unheard of. The Pages were mortified that we would have to sit through a two-hour speech to a virtually empty Chamber. Generally, there were only three attendees during Special Order sessions: the speaker himself and a representative from each party.
However, on this day, as the hour approached, rather than emptying out, the Chamber became more and more crowded until nearly every Member was on the Floor. As Richard Nixon began his speech, it dawned on us that we were witnessing something historic. The speech lasted more than two hours, almost three, and no one left the Chamber. Listening from the back rail, House Republican Overseer and my good friend, Bob Curtis (House ‘50 and a staunch Republican) said to me, “Jim, Richard Nixon will be elected President in 1984.” As I remember, he said “1984” as he thought Nixon would be much older when elected – but it could have been “1974.” Nixon became President much earlier than Bob predicted.
When Nixon finished speaking, he received a standing ovation from every single Member there, on both sides of the aisle. Many old-time observers said they had never seen anything like it in the House Chamber.
Jim went straight from 11th grade at Capitol Page School to Duke University, then moved to Georgia State University where he received a degree in Accounting and earned his CPA. His Page experience and interest in government led him to specialize in government accounting, auditing and financial management as well as fighting corruption – at a time few CPAs had such an interest. He then went on to head his own CPA firm and served three terms in the Georgia State Senate. In 1967 he went to Peru with the Alliance for Progress and spent the rest of his career working in and/or with Latin American countries’ governments. He retired in 2006 and now lives in Quito, Ecuador.