Remembering Sen. Pete

September 24, 2017 GMT

On Saturday, Sept. 16, as Sen. Pete Domenici’s life was being celebrated in Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, I was flooded by memories and a profound gratitude for the seven years I spent on his Washington staff spanning his second and third term as our U.S. senator.

I was his communications director and was responsible for his written contact with his constituents, through letters and newsletters, and later I added the title of office manager to this. While I was by no means a conservative Republican, and on certain subjects had very different opinions from my boss, it was typical of Sen. Pete to accept this as long as his work on behalf of New Mexico and the nation was strictly enforced.

And of course it was. While always totally loyal to him and his viewpoints, I admit that at times I would send in letters for him to sign that were replies to strong viewpoints on women’s issues and animal rights, both close to my heart, and at times would have a questioning eyebrow lifted in my direction: “Is someone by any chance running a campaign here, Benedicte?”

And the following also was so typical of this man: Managing his vast correspondence with his constituents, we had to collect letters on similar subjects and send a standard reply, which hopefully was detailed and responsive. Thus, after I had approved one response on a financial crisis in the nation, a cheeky staff member inserted, “My advice is to sell, sell, sell!” All hell broke loose with bewildered phone calls from irate New Mexicans who thought their senator was off the rocker.

I was called on the carpet, knowing nothing of this, but immediately accepted responsibility and offered my resignation. No, I was first to call each letter recipient and explain what had happened and then report back. An excruciating weekend later I had reached everyone, with only one really nasty response and threat to “go public,” but mostly people had either not noticed it or in some cases could not stop laughing.

After telling me this must never happen again, life went on as before — but I understand Sen. Pete carried his letter with the offending sentence in his pocket to be produced when he needed a good laugh with his colleagues.

It was from Sen. Pete’s office that I launched my own final career, that of general manager of Blair House, the President’s Guest House across from the White House. It was the recommendation coming from his office that took me over the final hurdle. And, finally, Sen. Pete Domenici honored me by announcing my appointment to Blair House from the Senate floor; his speech is inserted in the Congressional Record of May 13, 1988. My gratitude is boundless and shall remain with me forever.

Benedicte Valentiner is the author of Bedtime and Other Stories from The President’s Guest House and lives in Santa Fe.