Former Senate staffer Natalie Ravitz, who previously served as communications director for former Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, went viral on Twitter for sharing a powerful story of how the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid helped her through grief.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat best known as one of the longest-serving Senate Majority Leaders in history and for leading efforts to enshrine the Affordable Care Act into law, died yesterday at the age of 82.
Ravitz's tribute comes as many of Reid's colleagues pay tribute to him and his legendary legislative career.
Ravitz recalled that she was working as Press Secretary for Democratic Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone's re-election campaign in October 2002 at the time Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three of Ravitz's colleagues, and two pilots died in a plane crash.
Reid was one of the first of Wellstone's colleagues to fly in after the crash and she "spent all day taking him around to events and sorting politics."
Later, she drove Reid back to the airport. She said Reid must have heard that her boyfriend Will McLaughlin, was one of the Congressional staffers who'd died in the crash. Ravitz was supposed to be on the plane that day and was driving Reid in the same car her late boyfriend had used to take Wellstone to campaign events.
Reid asked to speak to Ravitz alone and then asked her to join him in a private plane his team had chartered.
When Ravitz hesitated, Reid said:
"I know what you lost and I know whose car you drove today. And I don’t want you to be afraid to get on a plane for the rest of your life. So let’s just go sit together for a little while."
The two boarded the plane and spoke over coffee. They paid tribute to Wellstone and "how brave he was voting against the war in Iraq." Reid, who grew up in poverty, was impressed by the "fancy gadgets" on the plane. And Ravitz spoke about McLaughlin and their plans to move back to Washington, D.C.
Ravitz recalled being touched by Reid's "empathy and emotional fortitude" when he offered to help her out after the crash cost her her home and her job:
"He said he knew I had lost my home and my job, but I had one with him whenever I was ready. The empathy and emotional fortitude he showed that day has stuck with me always. And it wasn’t just that day; he followed up to reiterate his offer two more times."
Reid was pleased when Ravitz joined Boxer's staff a few months later, telling her, "I’m still here if you need me."
Ravitz concluded her tribute with an anecdote about the night the Senate passed the Affordable Care Act, when staffers were were "working through an impasse over women’s health services with Reid keeping Senators Boxer and Ben Nelson in different rooms."
It was Christmas Eve "and everyone was exhausted," she recalled, adding that no one had any food and "everything was closed." The deal came through as it started to snow more heavily.
When the deal was struck, Reid called former President Barack Obama to tell him the good news, putting him on speakerphone so everyone could hear.
"We cheered and the President thanked us all," Ravitz said.
Ravitz remembered Reid for playing "a defining role in two bookends of my Senate career." She remembered him as "powerful and strategic, but also wry and soulful."
Finally, she said:
"I’m grateful to have known him, for what he gave this country, and for what he gave me sitting together quietly on a plane in Minnesota. RIP."
Many were moved by Ravitz's story and joined her in paying tribute to Reid
Information on memorials for Reid are pending at this time. He is the second former member of the Senate to die this month. Former Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, died of stage four lung cancer on December 5 at the age of 98.