Reflection on my time of Service
Along the highways and byways in Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District, I’ve spent countless hours and over a million miles driving during my 26 years in the United States House of Representatives. During the weekly journeys from my home in Roanoke to my workplace on Capitol Hill and on all the trips in between visiting every corner of the Sixth District, I’ve reflected on the trust placed in me to represent more than 760,000 individuals. I learned long ago that in order to do the job, I would never forget the responsibilities of a servant leader. I’ve shared the experiences of my job through this weekly column. This will be the last of 1,350 of them.
Public service is a higher calling. America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and the men and women who’ve heeded the call to serve since our nation’s birth have understood those foundational guidelines. Those principles are in the words of countless American leaders, like those of General Douglas MacArthur: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and compassion to listen to the needs of others.”
As I’ve served as Congressman, I’ve been mindful of the solemn responsibility to listen to and “stand in” for those constituents throughout the Sixth District. I’ve enjoyed meeting them in my offices, at events I’ve hosted and at community events like lawn parties and parades and festivals, and at the businesses and civic groups large and small I’ve been invited to speak to in the Roanoke Valley, the Shenandoah Valley, the Alleghany Highlands, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those constituents shared their concerns, their hopes, and their dreams with me; they’ve voiced support for my work and they’ve also let me know why they’ve disagreed with my positions. I’ll be forever thankful for witnessing each of them express themselves as active participants in our Constitutional republic.
My service in the Sixth District also required paying close attention to constituent needs related to government agencies. Every day presented an endless variety of requests for assistance. I’ve been here to assist folks who needed help with federal benefits, the status of tax returns and immigration paperwork, and expediting passports for long-planned family adventures. I’ve helped arrange and even accompanied constituents on tours of the United States Capitol. Through the years, I’ve hosted hundreds of town and tele-town hall meetings. I’ve drawn attention to what I considered government wrongdoing affecting my constituents’ well-being and then shared in my constituents’ relief when problems that lingered for years were resolved. I’ve also visited with each and every young man and woman whom I’ve nominated to our military academies, glimpsing in each one of them the future of what it means to serve our country.
I’ve been moved many times over by the unique opportunity to have served in the world’s longest-serving deliberative body. It’s allowed me to work with colleagues in the House with whom I now share lasting friendships and for whom I will always have unending respect. We each chose to devote a portion of our adult lives to debating the issues and then setting out to create legislation on a myriad of subjects – supporting our military; making it easier to participate in our dynamic economy; and promoting the freedom to live, work, worship, and play in the land of the free.
From the start of my service in Congress, I’ve been joined by another set of colleagues – my staff. The individuals who have worked for me in Washington, D.C. – including on the
Agriculture and Judiciary Committees – and in my Roanoke, Lynchburg, Staunton, and Harrisonburg offices are devoted men and women, plain and simple. They are my eyes, ears, and
even my voice in representing me by fielding phone calls, greeting visitors, and attending countless meetings and events when I can’t be present in the Congressional district that I’m thankful to call my home. I’ve been fortunate to hire those folks – my fellow public servants. I’ve been moved by their breadth of knowledge, their advice on complicated issues, and their abiding commitment to helping my constituents. I will be forever grateful to them for choosing to join me in the public arena and for their unending support.
And from the moment I made my decision to first run for Congress until I announced I would step aside at the end of my present term, my family has served as my bedrock, the essence of why I could choose to serve as an elected official and, now, to enter a time of reflection and some relaxation before I move on to a new venture. With the eternal love of my wife Maryellen, my daughter Jennifer, and my son Bobby -- and more recently my son-in-law Matt and my granddaughters -- I’ve dutifully reported to Capitol Hill for going on 26 years.
Soon, I’ll make my final drive from my offices in the Rayburn House Office Building for one last work-related trip through what I consider the most beautiful and friendliest Congressional district in the country. I offer my deepest heartfelt thanks to those who elected me to serve in the House of Representatives. It’s a privilege a select few have been entrusted with in America’s history. I was blessed to be able to serve for a quarter century plus one year and to do deeply rewarding work from my first day in Congress. It’s been the honor of my life to have spent this time in service.