Former Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin died yesterday. As Fox News reports, Nelson is best remembered for his environmentalism, including the founding of Earth Day. However, I remember him for an encounter we had in 1963 when I was 14 years old.
In those days, I used to hang out with a friend at the Capitol, watching Congress in session, attending the more engaging committee hearings, collecting gallery passes from as many Senators as possible, and trying to spot Senators riding the Senate subway. To make sure we didn’t miss any Senators, we would ride in the front car. If a Senator boarded, we would be forced to give up our seat, and thus would know that a Senator was in our presence.
One day, a man sat down next to us in the front car, and the subway operator indicated that we needed to move. However, the Senator asked us to stay. He then introduced himself as Gaylord Nelson. The Senator struck up a conversation during which he asked us where we were headed. Unwilling to admit that we were just riding the subway, I said that we were going to the office of our home state Senator, Daniel Brewster. Nelson told us that he was on his way to the Vice President’s Office, and that Senator Brewster’s was nearby. He offered to escort us to our destination. We even got to ride on the elevator reserved for Senators.
Nelson was only a freshman Senator at the time, but I knew that he had already served two terms as Governor of Wisconsin. I found it remarkable that a man of his stature would extend so much kindness to two scruffy teenagers.
Gaylord Nelson, R.I.P.
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