This is Reuven Carlyle's farewell to Jermaine Magnuson, widow of Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989). Jermaine Magnuson died in Seattle on October 14, 2011. She was 87 years old. Reuven Carlyle is a State Representative from Washington's 36th Legislative District.
Rest in Peace and Thank you
As a troubled 15-year-old kid from Bellingham, I was struggling to find my way amidst personal and family chaos. With a stroke of good fortune and arguably divine intervention, I won the lottery of life through an opportunity to serve as a page in the U.S. Senate for the distinguished Sen. Warren G. Magnuson. I would literally become the youngest, smallest, most inconsequential yet grateful "bumblebee" in the famed Magnuson family. My opportunity came about in large part because Mrs. Jermaine Magnuson unsubtly "encouraged" her husband to make it so.
Mrs. Magnuson passed away at her Queen Anne home this weekend.
I owe a world of personal, professional, business, and political success to Mrs. Magnuson because she invested a smile, kind gesture and word to a kid who desperately needed it. At a Bellingham fundraising event for Sen. Magnuson in the 1980 campaign I found her enjoying the view of the garden. I mustered up the courage to introduce myself and ask for her advice about becoming a page in Washington, D.C. I knew of the opportunity after having enjoyed two weeks as a page in the Washington State House of Representatives the year earlier. After hearing my story, she promptly took my hand and walked over to Sen. Magnuson who was entertaining a long line of supporters with a variety of stories. “Warren, this young man wants to be a page for you and I’d like you to strongly consider it,” she said with no hint of subtly.
As only a wonderfully naive and brash 15 year old can pull off, I sat down on the footstool of his large chair -- looking him directly in the eyes -- and made my pitch: “Senator, I’d like to ask for your sincere consideration to serve as your page. I’ll work hard, won’t get in trouble, will study and be responsible but most of all I’ll do everything I can to succeed if you’ll just give me this chance. I’ve volunteered on your campaign, served as a state House page and am a pretty good student. Please give me this chance. I won’t let you down.” It was everything I had. I felt, on the deepest spiritual level despite my lack of seasoning, that much of my future direction hinged on this pitch. Something inside clicked, telling me as a teenager that this mattered more than I would know. He looked at me for what seemed like a long time and said: “Ok kid, I’ll think about it.”
My mother’s emotional struggles at the time combined with our financial situation and the normal chaos of teenager rage forced me to make a bold move. I had absolutely no choice but to leave. I just didn’t know whether it would be to the streets or to the page desk of the United States Senate.
I received a call a few weeks later instructing me to be in Washington, D.C. that Saturday. I was 15 and a sophomore by a few weeks. I packed my bag, took every penny I had from a bank account, checked out of Sehome High School, purchased a one way ticket and informed my mother that I was leaving for Washington, D.C. Later, after Sen. Magnuson lost his re-election, I spent untold hours with him, Mrs. Magnuson, aide and mentor Featherstone Reid and others helping to pack up their personal items for shipment back home to Seattle. I would bring a pile of books, materials or other items to Sen. Magnuson who sat in his favorite chair delivering instructions. “Now that little thing was a gift from LBJ,” seemed to be his most common refrain.
In one of the single most impactful and dramatic moments of my life, on the final day he was in the Chamber of the United States Senate, Sen. Magnuson said goodbye to his colleagues -- Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Howard Baker, Scoop Jackson, Birch Baye, Daniel Inouye, Ted Stevens -- following their remarks about his lifetime of service. As he quietly left the full, somber, silent Chamber, I stood and held open the door for him to leave the distinguished room for the last time. Much to the embarrassment of my fellow pages and the discomfort of staff I cried forcefully and indelicately in my confusion and deep sadness. Sen. Magnuson stopped as I held the door for him, patted me on the shoulder and said, “thank you, Reuven, you’re a good kid.” And he walked out of the Chamber. He literally did not look back.
Mrs. Magnuson, indefatigable and gracious press aide Gretchen Bakamis, Featherstone Reid and others told me years later that the night Sen. Magnuson was defeated he privately made a list of people whom he wanted Scoop, Tom Foley and others to assist. He put my name on the list.
All that I treasure in this life -- healthy relationships with my wife Wendy, our four children, my mother, family, friends, my business career and the opportunity to serve our community -- are possible in large part because I found a path that worked. I arrived in Washington, D.C. a frightened, anxious, pained and lost 15 year old and left a more thoughtful, engaged, generous, and stable 18 year old who had the grounding to succeed in college and life. That journey would not have been as smooth, safe, or supported had it not been for the kindness of Mrs. Jermaine Magnuson.
Sometimes the smallest gestures can change a life.
Your partner in service,
P.S. The U.S. House of Representatives recently announced the cancellation of the page program to save $5 million a year. After two years in the Senate and one year in the House, I mourn the loss of this program that serves as a generator of civic engagement for so many young people. Each year I treasure the opportunity to sponsor teenagers to serve as pages in the state House of Representatives. I see my own journey through their eyes.