Rich Galen

A memorial celebration was held last night in the Ways & Means Committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building honoring the memory of former Congressman Guy VanderJagt of Michigan.

Guy Vander Jagt may not be a name familiar to you, but his was a familiar, and beloved name in Washington.

While serving his district in Western Michigan, Guy was the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee for 18 years - a record for serving as the head of any of the six major party national committees.

He was known as a brilliant orator. He would give an entire 40 minute speech - with soaring images and grand constructs - without even so much as a note.

A favorite trick was to memorize the name of everyone at the head table at a major political event. Without, again, so much as glancing at a note, Guy would welcome every person - husbands and wives - by first and last name. About half-way through the performance the audience would realize what he was doing and begin to cheer more and more loudly with the successful mention of each succeeding name.

The event last night was Standing Room Only. In a place where bitter enemies routinely refer to each other as "My friend, the gentleman from Upper Iguana," there was genuine affection for VanderJagt. The Vice President, who served in the House from 1978 until he was confirmed as Secretary of Defense in 1989, called Guy "A very, very good man."

The reach of this very, very good man among his colleagues was demonstrated by two of the speakers: The current Chairman of Ways & Means, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) who gave the welcoming remarks and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) who offered the opening prayer.

Former Ways & Means Committee staffer Ken Keis said, "Guy was special to everyone. But what made him unique was this: Everyone was unique to Guy."

That was true. VanderJagt criss-crossed the country dozens of times per year, recruiting candidates, doing fundraising events for new candidates, and adding support for colleagues running for re-election.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), current chairman of the NRCC said that VanderJagt created the modern political committee: The fundraising, the use of technology, the focus on campaigns, and the focus of resources.

But it was those speeches. Those wonderful speeches.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at