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Stephen F. Austin State University

Interview I - March 25, 2011

Biography

Peggy Love was born in Washington D.C. At the age of five, she and her family moved to northern Virginia (the Falls Church area) where she attended St. James Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, and Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. Love began working in Washington D.C. in 1970/71 for the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. From there, she worked several years for Congressman Wayne Hays. Love worked as a caseworker for Charlie Wilson from 1976-1984. Since then, she worked for the Air Force Surgeon General (1984-1989), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (1989-2002), and the Environmental Protection Agency (2002-2009). Love continues to live in northern Virginia and serves as a consultant and lecturer.

Interview Notes

Interviewer's Name: Perky Beisel

Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 25, 2011 and took place on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas (Spring 2011).

At the beginning of the audio Beisel and Love talk about what the interview will include and discuss seating positions that are best for the video. Throughout the interview there are some instances where Love and Beisel laugh about stories of Love's life and Charlie Wilson.

Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.

Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.

The interviewer Perky Beisel is identified as BEISEL. Peggy Love is identified as LOVE.

Transcript

BEGIN INTERVIEW

[Pre-interview discussion not transcribed]

BEISEL: Okay. Well, we'll get started. My name is Perky Beisel, and I am interviewing Peggy Love. Today is March 25, 2011. We are here at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Today we're going to discuss you're background, how you became part of Charlie Wilson's staff, and his larger component of advisors, and you're experiences on working with Representative Charlie Wilson.

LOVE: Okay.

BEISEL: So, I'd like to start with a little bit about you. Can you tell me where you were born, when, who your parents were, and a little bit about your early childhood?

LOVE: I was born in Washington, D.C., and I lived in D.C. till I was about five years old. And then we moved out to northern Virginia, and I grew up in the northern Virginia area, and I currently have a residence in northern Virginia.

BEISEL: Okay. Where did you go to school, for elementary and high school?

LOVE: I went to a Catholic school for, like, twelve years. I went to St. James Elementary School in Falls Church [Virginia], and then I went to Bishop Denis J. O Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.

BEISEL: Alright. And did you go on to college after that?

LOVE: No. I tend to do things the hard way [Beisel laughs]. After, when I was in high school, my mother sat me down one day and she wanted to know if I wanted to go do college cause nobody in my family had a college degree, and I was fed up with wearing uniforms and going to school, and all I wanted to do was get a job and get an apartment and party and buy clothes. So she ended up insisting that I do something with my life. So I went to a business school, the Washington School for Secretaries in Washington, D.C. My cousin had gone there, and I went there. After I graduated, I got a job on Capitol Hill with the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

BEISEL: When was that that you got that job?

LOVE: That was in 1970, '71. Something like that.

BEISEL: Were you excited about it? I mean, did it seem like a big opportunity or . . . ?

LOVE: Well, actually, it started off, it was going to be a temporary thing. One of the girls I went to school with, we decided after we graduated from school, we were both undergraduates, and we got in my Mustang convertible and drove to Key West [Florida]. And she had a friend in Key West, and that was kind of our reward to ourselves from suffering in school and doing so well. And we fell in love with Florida and we decided we were going to move to either Fort Lauderdale or Miami, but we needed some money. So we were going to go back and work over the summer, and then, in the fall, we were going to move to Florida. And she got a job with a committee on the Hill [Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.], and a woman in her office told her about this employment office they had on the Hill. I went there . . . I got this interview with the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. And again it was going to be a temporary thing, and I ended up working up there for fourteen years.

BEISEL: So, you began as a temporary secretary?

LOVE: Actually, my job was permanent, but I was going to quit after a few months.

BEISEL: Oh, you were quitting?

LOVE: Yeah, I was going to quit after, you know.

BEISEL: What were the kind of things that you did for that committee?

LOVE: The Committee, it was all classified. I worked in a vault in the Dome of the Capitol and I was the youngest person on the staff. And, of course, mini-skirts were in style then and, of course, I wore my mini-skirts and the other women on the staff thought I was some kind of little slut, you know. And I did mainly secretarial work. And we dealt a lot with atomic energy. And my first day on the job, one of the men I was working for gave me a little packet, and it was a list of words that weren't in the dictionary that he would use in dictation. And, of course, . . . they wanted to make sure I was sworn to secrecy because a lot of the stuff was classified material. I told them, I said, "You don't have to worry about me because I don't understand half of the stuff that you're dictating yet." But I do remember one time we had some hearings, and Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb [Hydrogen bomb] came, and he was at the hearing, and that was kind of exciting. I mean, I was serving him coffee, and it was kind of exciting just to be near somebody that was so knowledgeable and smart. And I worked for the Committee for about three years. And then I went to work for Congressman Wayne Hays who was a member from Ohio. And when I went to work for Wayne, I transferred from doing secretarial work to doing casework. And that's handling constituent inquiries. So, when they write their congressman about trying to get Social Security benefits or veterans' benefits or military or just dealing with any federal government agency.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: And Wayne, I was with him for about three years, and he was accused of having a woman on his payroll to be his mistress. And so he ended up leaving Congress in like September of '75, I believe. And we started interviewing for jobs, and Congressman Hays was a very powerful member of Congress. He was head of the House Administration Committee, and if you crossed him, he would do things that you didn't like. And, like, I heard one time he held up a page's paycheck because the page didn't operate the elevator to take him to his floor quickly or just things like that. And for the members, he was in charge of where your office was located. And so he had a lot of enemies on the Hill, and when this scandal broke, it was just kind of snowballed into a lot larger thing. And he ended up resigning from Congress. Well, because people didn't like him, they wouldn't hire us.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: I mean, even though I wasn't from Ohio, it was just, you know, you were blackballed.

BEISEL: You were associated with him.

LOVE: Yes. And then, of course, anywhere I went to interview, they wanted me to take a typing test or a shorthand test, and I just got fed up with it.

BEISEL: Because you'd been working on case . . .

LOVE: . . . yeah, yeah . . .

BEISEL: . . . case letters by that point, okay.

LOVE: And Charlie [Wilson] offered me a job on December 16, and December 31 [1975], I was being taken off the payroll.

BEISEL: And what year was this?

LOVE: This was in...

BEISEL: Somewhere in the mid-seventies?

LOVE: It was '75 because I started working for him [Charlie Wilson] in January of '76. And I'll never forget, but when he offered me the job, he said, "Peggy, there's one thing that bothers me about you." And, of course, I thought it was going to be that I'd worked for Wayne, and he was going to put me in the back corner, which is fine. But he said, "It's the fact that you don't have a college degree." And I just, and I'd been going to night school, taking some classes at night, but, you know, I thought to myself, "Here I'm being hired to do casework." And having worked for Wayne, I had the private number from every director's office in the federal government, and I was on a first-name basis with the directors of federal agencies and their key staff. And, you know, you could get things turned around like that. And, you know, I could have had a PhD, and, but without those contacts . . .

BEISEL: You wouldn't have been able to do your job.

LOVE: Exactly. I wouldn't be nearly as useful to Charlie as I was without a degree. But I was not in a position to argue with him. I said, "I'm sorry, sir. I'm taking classes now. I intend to pursue my degree." So, anyway, I got the job, and I did continue going to school at night. I eventually graduated from George Washington University with an undergraduate in National Affairs and Economics. And while I was working for Charlie, I didn't like the fact that illegal immigrants were entitled to some benefits through the federal government. And there were a lot of illegals [illegal immigrants] in East Texas, and one day I asked him if I drafted a bill to prevent some of that if he would introduce it, and he said, "Sure." So, I did a lot of research on it and put together this piece of legislation, and I was told it had to be run through the Legislative Counsel's office on the Hill before he could introduce it. So I called the Legislative Counsel's office and I sent down to them what I had put together. And they called me back and said, "Peggy, Charlie can't introduce this." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "You're not a lawyer." And I went, "So?" "Well, you know, you're not, you know, you don't have the legal license to draft legislation so he can't introduce it." I'm like, "Give me a freakin' break." You know, so anyway, they kind of tweaked it a bit and put the legal cites in it and stuff, but the basic stuff is what I had done.

BEISEL: The body of it.

LOVE: Yeah, yeah. And it was introduced, and it ended up becoming part of the Social Security amendments that were this big Social Security bill that was passed. But it just really infuriated me that because I didn't have JD after my name, I couldn't do this. So, I decide to go to law school. And, it was like, "If I get accepted, I'll go." And I was accepted, and I ended up going to Catholic University Columbus School of Law and graduated from there.

BEISEL: And that's in Washington [D.C.] also?

LOVE: Yes. That's also in Washington, D.C. And I worked full time going to undergraduate school, and then I was also working full time when I was going to law school, so.

BEISEL: Wow. That keeps you busy. Now, did you live in Washington once you got that job with the Atomic Commission?

LOVE: I lived in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

BEISEL: Would you drive in or would you take the train?

LOVE: I would drive in. I would always drive in. And, because, when I worked on the Hill, actually when I worked on the Joint Committee for Atomic Energy, I had a parking place on the Plaza of the Capitol, and now you can't even park there. It's all blocked off because of security. After 9/11 [September 11, 2001] they put a lot of barriers up and now you can't park there. And then when I worked for Congressman Hays, I had a parking spot in the Rayburn House Office Building. In fact, when I transferred to Charlie's office, I went to work for Charlie, each member's office only had a certain number of parking places, and they're usually given to the senior folks. And when I went to work for Charlie, he didn't have a parking place for me, but the guys that worked in the Rayburn Garage they knew that I had worked for Wayne. And they said, "Peggy, just come by and see us in the morning. We'll see what we can find for you." And, anyway, they ended up getting me a spot, and it ended up being converted into one for Charlie's office.

BEISEL: Yes, but you'd been around. You'd done your time by that point.

LOVE: Yeah.

BEISEL: And you were able to do that. Well, how interesting. How many people were in, that worked for that pool, with the atomic energy? Was it a very large office? You said you were up in the dome [of the U.S. Capitol Building]. I envision that being a very small space with a few people.

LOVE: No, no. It was a huge space, a huge space. There were, let me see, like, four senior folks, and there were maybe about ten of us that worked up there including the secretarial, and there was a historian there, and the professionals.

BEISEL: Okay. Were there any individuals who were politicians that were involved or were they more, I'm looking for a better word, administrators?

LOVE: There was, well we were all career people.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: But being, and being a joint committee, you had both members from the Democratic [party]. I'm sorry, being a committee, you had members of the Democratic and Republican parties. But we were a joint committee, so you had members from the U.S. House of Representatives and members from the United States Senate that would come to our hearings.

BEISEL: That's how you got to know a lot of people all over Washington?

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Through that, initially.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: And then how large was Senator Hays's office?

LOVE: Actually, it was, Hays was a Congressman.

BEISEL: Congressman. Okay.

LOVE: Sorry. Yeah. His office? Let me see. There was . . . two, four, there was about seven of us in; I worked in his Congressional office, and there was about seven of us in that office. And, then he had, he was Chairman of the House Administration Committee, and that was a whole - their offices were actually in the Capitol. And there was another whole set of staff members over there that worked for the committee.

BEISEL: And, so, can you tell me a bit about the casework that you were doing with the letters from the constituents in his office?

LOVE: Yes. It was, actually, I really enjoyed it because I enjoy helping people. And when people would write in . . . say you might have an elderly person trying to get Social Security disability benefits and their claim was denied, and they would write their congressman. Well, I would review their letter, and then normally I would take a copy of their letter and put a cover letter from Charlie and send it to the Social Security Administration Office here in East Texas, the one that would handle the case. Or sometimes I would just call the office here in East Texas and see if we could resolve it by phone depending on how complicated the matter seemed. And, most of the time, they would want to see the letter, so I would just send it down, and they would review the case and send a letter back to Charlie. I would look at that and then forward a copy of that on to the constituent.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: And that was basically the way things operated with the Social Security claims, the veterans' claims, military cases. And depending on when you got the letter back, if you, like with Social Security, there's an appeals process. So, if the constituent still, if their case was denied, we could tell them that they could appeal it. And a lot of times we would be the liaison between them and Social Security and helping them work through the appeals process.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: And, you know, like with anything else, sometimes you would get people that would just really try and work the system. And they, for Workman's Compensation, for example, if somebody had been on Workman's Compensation because they got injured on their job, and then the Workman's Compensation stopped, they would write Charlie and say, "You know, I'm still disabled. I can't work. You know, my Workman's Compensation, they took it away. I can't buy my kids food. Blah, blah, blah." And I would call the Department of Labor, and tell them I got this letter and go over the case with them. And they would tell me, "Well, yeah. The reason we stopped his Workman's Comp benefits was because we saw him working. He was doing some part-time work. And he was doing, like, construction work, so the fact that his back was really hurting, didn't look like it was hurting too bad when we saw him climbing up and down that ladder." So, then you go back, and, "Oh, yeah. Yeah. I did get some part-time work for a couple days, but I'm just, my back still hurts me." You find out sometimes they were just trying to buck the system.

BEISEL: Right. What percentage of areas were most of these letters from? Were they mostly Social Security, or . . . ? Which areas were the most common that you had to deal with?

LOVE: Most of them were like Social Security, veterans' claims, cause Charlie has a big veterans population here, and Social Security, a lot of Workman's Comp, some military. So it was just a whole gamut. And then you've got the oddball cases. Like, there was . . . and I forget the name of the center, but there's a center here in Nacogdoches. It's some sort of senior center for handicapped or disabled seniors. And years ago there was a law passed, the IRS passed this law, and this-I'm going to call it the Nacogdoches Seniors' Center. Okay.

BEISEL: Right. We can research that later.

LOVE: Actually, I've got an article at home, and I can get you the exact information on that. And this Center, there was a law passed, and the IRS passed this law, and the Center was supposed to be taking out more Social Security taxes from their employees. And the accountant wasn't aware of the law, and the taxes weren't being taken out. And the Center got a letter from the IRS, and they owed like $18,000 in back taxes. And then, you know, we're talking like early eighties, late seventies, early eighties.

BEISEL: It was a lot of money.

LOVE: It was a lot of money. And they were going to have to close the doors if they, in fact, had to pay this bill. And so, you know, I took their letter and put a cover letter from Charlie and sent it to the IRS. And they sent me back a letter that, it was like two or three pages long, and I couldn't understand what the letter was saying. Some of it seemed to be, you know, contradictory, like, you know, what they were saying on page one didn't seem to jive with what they were saying on page three. And so I called the IRS, it was the Dallas office, and I was talking to the person that wrote the letter, and I just kept pushing because I couldn't get a straight answer. And, I mean I try to be a nice person, but if I feel like, I mean, I can be very tenacious, too. And I ended up talking to the director of the IRS in Texas, and he kind of agreed that what they were saying was trying to talk out of both sides of their mouth. And to make a long story short, he ended up reversing their decision on the Center. And so the Center didn't have to pay these back taxes. Starting in the future, they were going to have to, you know, start withholding, which made sense, you know.

BEISEL: Right.

LOVE: And the director of the Center wanted me to come down to Nacogdoches, and she wanted to have an interview with me in the local paper and do this article about how I was so helpful. And I said, "Well, you know, that is very nice, and I appreciate it, but I work for your congressman. I think the interview needs to be with Charlie." And so that's what happened. Charlie ended up coming down, and I do have a copy of that article at home. I'd be happy to provide it if you, you know.

BEISEL: Okay. Oh, that would be great.

LOVE: It might clarify some of the . . .

BEISEL: . . . the whos, whats, wheres . . .

LOVE: . . . the whos and whats, yes. And, you know, at that point I thought, "Well, when you fight the IRS and win, it's time to move on." You know, so, yes. So, I left Charlie's office and went to work for the Air Force Surgeon General, and I was Chief of Congressional Affairs for the Air Force Surgeon General for awhile.

BEISEL: And, so, when was that? When did you leave Charlie's office?

LOVE: That was in '84.

BEISEL: Okay. And what did you do? More of the same work in that office?

LOVE: Yes. I did. Yes. In addition to, for the Air Force Surgeon General, when the members would send the letters it was similar to, well, actually it was kind of the reverse because the members of Congress would be sending the letters they received from the constituents to the Air Force Surgeon General. And this dealt with a lot of medical malpractice issues or people that were, had joined the military, and they were given an assignment to go overseas, and they didn't want to go because they had young children or they were in school or whatever. And so they were trying to get the member to get a waiver of their case so they didn't have to go overseas. You know, we got a lot of those, but the majority of it was medical malpractice cases.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: And that was interesting for me personally because at that time I'd started going to law school.

BEISEL: Right.

LOVE: And the legal office was in the building next to mine so I would get these letters and go over to the legal office and they would show me how to do the legal research and stuff. So, I found that very interesting.

BEISEL: Interesting and very timely for your studies.

LOVE: Yes. And we also did legislation. And when most people think of the Air Force, they think of fighter planes and fighter pilots, and they don't think of medical. And, so, the medical portion of the budget was small in comparison, but we needed the money. And a lot of times when they were cutting the budget, they would cut the medical service, the budget for the medical service. Well, because I had worked on the Hill, and I mean, I knew how the system operated, and there's the textbook version of how to get a bill through Congress, and there's the reality version of how to get a bill through Congress. And one of the things that was attractive to my boss, the woman that hired me, was because I knew how to get a bill through Congress. And she and I would just do a lot of strategy, and I called it back-door lobbying, or educating the staffers. And, you know, we would get the budget to the Pentagon. If we'd need money for a new hospital, let's say, and they were giving us half of what we needed. Well, we would call the Hill and talk to the staff, and tell them, you know, "Can you do something in mark-up because, you know, we really need this because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And a lot of times, not a lot of times, but if they were going to try to help us, what we would need to do is, they would ask to do, give them some language to put in the appropriations bill at mark-up time. So, I remember times standing over my secretary's desk, my boss and I would be standing over a desk dictating what she needed to type. And we'd put this language on a piece of plain, bond paper. And we'd, you know, when the secretary, after she typed it and printed it off, we'd say, "Erase it. Delete it." And I would take that piece of paper, get in my private car, and drive up to the Hill, and I'd meet the staffer on the corner. And I'd hand her this piece of paper, and I'd go back to the office. And this was between my boss and me.

BEISEL: Oh, so, you'd had it on a computer, and you printed it, and then she deleted it off the computer.

LOVE: Yes. There'd be no record of it. Okay?

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: Okay. And then, if the staffer could, they would take this language and get it worked in the mark-up bill. And, I remember one time we were very successful in getting some money in the budget. And when the final budget came out, the Surgeon General was surprised to see this language in there. And he called my boss in, because my boss was civilian. She wasn't military. And, so since we were civilian, we didn't really need to listen to what the brass was saying because, you know, it was hard to fire us. And, so the Surgeon General called my boss in and said, "How did this happen?" And she said, "I can tell you, but you really don't want to know." And he said, "Okay. Thank you." And . . .

BEISEL: . . . cause he had what he wanted or you'd . . .

LOVE: . . . yes, yes. And so, if the Pentagon called him on the carpet to say, "How did this happen?" He could say, "I don't know." And, so we were just covering him, and he knew that we had something to do with it, but he didn't know exactly what.

BEISEL: How it works.

LOVE: You know, she might tell him she was talking with a staffer and said, you know, "We do need the funds and they just took it upon themselves to work it in." You know, so she didn't lie to him, but she was covering him.

BEISEL: Right.

LOVE: And, I found doing things like that fun.

BEISEL: Oh, well certainly. I can imagine. It would be very fun.

LOVE: Yeah.

BEISEL: Yes. Well, is that when you said there's the way the bill's supposed to come through, and then there's the reality way.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Are there are some other things that would happen? I assume lots of phone calls back and forth.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Would there be lots of lunches or meetings with various departments or agencies across?

LOVE: I normally, when I worked for the Air Force, I normally didn't do the lunches and stuff like that. It was mainly phone calls or occasionally the taking the piece of plain bond paper up to the Hill type thing. And after I left the Air Force Surgeon General, I went to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And, again, I started in their Congressional Affairs office, and I was hired to work the disaster program in appropriations. And again it was a lot more-there we had a lot more meetings directly with the Hill staffers.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: When I worked for the Air Force Surgeon General, I did some meetings, but usually when it was a meeting, because it was the military, it was more the senior folks that would go, the military themselves, the staff didn't go as much as when I went to work for FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]. And we would provide the talking points to, like, the Surgeon General when he was going to the Hill whereas at FEMA, I would go myself.

BEISEL: You would go?

LOVE: Yeah. And, you know, we'd go with, like, a program office, for example. You know, like, if the disaster program needed more money, take somebody from the disaster program that could talk the actual program language, and why they needed more money in the disaster budget, and I would talk the appropriations process. So . . .

BEISEL: How long did you work for FEMA?

LOVE: I was with FEMA from '84 to '89. No. I'm sorry. No. I worked for Charlie, Wayne from '76. I was with Charlie from '76 to '84, and then '84 to '89 I was with the Air Force, and then from '89 to like 2000, I was with FEMA.

BEISEL: Okay. Were there any major disasters that you all had to deal with that you remember?

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Any issues?

LOVE: Yes. In fact, my first day on the job, Hurricane Hugo had swept the Virgin Islands the weekend before I started, and my first day on the job, I was asked how late I could stay. And I was learning, you know, how FEMA operated and stuff, and the woman that was doing the disaster program, I was taking that over for her, and we would, we went down to this restaurant downstairs because her phone was ringing off the hook, just so she could sit down and kind of give me the big picture of what I needed to do and how things went. And, the following weekend, I was given a one-way plane ticket down to St. Thomas [U.S. Virgin Islands] because they wanted me to go down there and help with the Congressional Affairs, and there was only one delegate from the Virgin Islands down there, so it was a good opportunity for me to learn how to do Congressional Affairs for FEMA on the ground. Plus, I could spend a lot of time with the program people, going out to, and learning about, the public assistant program, the individual assistance program, and I was down there for two weeks. And the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit in California, in San Francisco [October 17, 1989]. So, they called me and said, "Peggy, can you go to California?" And, I said, "Yes, but can I go home for a couple days and re-pack my suitcase?" So, I came home for the weekend, and then I went out to California for about another two or three weeks.

BEISEL: Oh my goodness gracious.

LOVE: And, so I would always go out on the big, catastrophic type disasters.

BEISEL: Okay. And, so, then you were working with the Senators, the Representatives from that area.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: And, then, also with FEMA's personnel, probably trying to negotiate what they were trying to do with the demands from the public and the politicians.

LOVE: Yes. For example, in California when the earthquake hit, when I came back to D.C., I got a list of all the members of Congress and the Senators that represented that area . . . you know, like the surrounding counties that were affected. And we sent them all a little packet of information on how the public assistance program worked, how the individual assistance program worked, a copy of the disaster declaration and what sort of aid was available to their constituents. And, I would try to have a meeting with the members' offices here in Washington, D.C. And then when I would get out to the disaster site, we would go and meet with the individual congressional offices out there. And depending on the particular disaster, after a week or so, when things settled down, I would do fly-overs with the members a lot because, you know, a lot of the members of congress. And we'd get a helicopter, and I'd take their staff, the staff and the members, on a fly over the devastated areas so they could see firsthand what was going on.

BEISEL: Oh, wow. And that was sponsored by FEMA, for them to be able to come out and see?

LOVE: Yes. We would do these contracts with, like, the Navy. Yeah, I guess it was mainly with the Navy, or sometimes the Coast Guard would provide helicopters. And FEMA would get a mission assignment from those agencies, and FEMA would pay for it all through the disaster funds.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: But it was a good educational opportunity for the members, you know, because you could tell them that, "This particular area was devastated." Or their constituents from an area might be yelling and screaming about, "Yeah, this house fell off the side of a cliff, blah, blah, blah." And if they could see it, it was very helpful to them from an educational perspective.

BEISEL: Right. And then they're better able to help their constituents.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: And they would probably know who to contact in your office if they needed any additional help.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: And, so, then, did you work anywhere after FEMA?

LOVE: Yes. After FEMA and getting my law degree and stuff, I went to work for the Environmental Protection Agency.

BEISEL: Oh, it keeps getting bigger and bigger.

LOVE: Yes. Well, when I was at FEMA, I started off in Congressional Affairs, and I was in Congressional Affairs for about three years. And then I went to work for one of the program offices, the State and Local Preparedness Division, and then I went to work in their Office of General Counsel. And when I was in the Office of General Counsel, the attorney that was running the ethics program retired. And I was asked if I would like to take over the ethics program. And I said, "Sure." It would be a new opportunity. I knew this much about ethics, but I thought, "You know, I could figure it out." And, so I took over their ethics program, and there is an Office of Government Ethics [OGE] that oversees the ethics program for the entire federal government. And so I called our desk officer at OGE, and she kind of took me by the hand and told me how they like ethics programs to be run. And I quickly learned that FEMA did not have an ethics program anywhere near up to standards that they like. So, I kind of revamped the ethics program at EPA. And after, the Office of Government Ethics would do audits of different agencies' ethics programs. They call it review. I call it audit, and after about three years, it was our turn for an audit, and I was sweating bullets. But, you know, again I pleaded to this, my desk officer, and she said, "They've got a checklist on their website. You know, you just do everything on that checklist, and you'll be okay." So, I got that checklist off, and I followed it very carefully. And I even put together a three-ring binder. And, you know, I had everything color-coded and tabbed, and stuff. And so when their person came over to do the audit, I gave her this notebook, and I had a little private office for her to sit in and go through it. And, anyway, FEMA ended up getting an award for how their ethics program was run after the review, and it was the first time in the history of the Agency that we got an award. And, I figured, you know, there was a basketball coach that once said, Coach Rick Patino, he said, "When you're on top, there's only one way to go. And that's down." And so, I thought since I was on top, this job opening came up at EPA, and it was a promotion for me, so I went to work for the EPA. And essentially I was doing the same thing, but it was a lot larger agency. There was like 17,000 people at EPA versus, you know, a couple thousand at FEMA. And, so, I helped run the ethics program at EPA, and I also served as the Deputy Ethics Official for the Office of General Counsel at EPA. And so I provided guidance to the attorneys at EPA and did some continuing legal education training for them because all attorneys have to have CLE [Continuing Legal] training. Depending on your state bars, actually not all, but most state bars require annual CLE ethics training, and I tried to do that in-house so the lawyers wouldn't have to go out. And, you know, it saved them money.

BEISEL: Right. Made it more convenient to ensure they keep up with it.

LOVE: Yeah. And then I did ethics training for all the employees. New employee orientation for all the new employees starting, I did training for them like once a week. And then, of course, you handle all ethics questions. A lot of them are pretty challenging, especially dealing with some political appointees because they have a lot of financial interests, and sometimes they conflict with the work they're hired to do, and so you've got to get them to recuse themselves. And then when they leave the federal government, there's a criminal statute, it's a post employment statute, that essentially tells them what they can and cannot do once they leave federal service. So we had to make sure that they were very knowledgeable of that because we wouldn't want them leaving the federal government and accepting a job and then finding out they couldn't do the work they were hired to do.

BEISEL: Yeah. Well, can we go back to, and then I guess I better ask did you work somewhere else after the EPA?

LOVE: No, that was it.

BEISEL: Well, so go back in the time that we have left, and can you tell me a bit about the atmosphere of, well, actually I have two questions. First of all, you mentioned you were in the Washington office. How much, or if ever, did you ever come to East Texas and do any work for Charlie, or did you do it all remotely?

LOVE: I did most of it out of the Washington office, though we did come down here to help campaign. In 1984, in particular, because that was a very tough election for him. And so we had to take lead because as a government employee, on the Hill as an employee, you couldn't campaign on official government time. So we would take leave and come down here and campaign for Charlie. And that was a lot of fun. It was a lot of hard work, long hours, but it was a lot of fun.

BEISEL: How did that process work? And you can use in 1984 election, for instance.

LOVE: Okay. Charlie had a "mobile office," he called it. It was a big motor home and he had converted it into an office because his district was so spread out. And it was a lot more convenient for him to travel in this mobile office, and he could take a lot more staff with him. And what we would do is, we would pick a certain section of the district. And he would send out fliers, and there would be fliers sent out and ads put in the newspaper, you know, all the publication ahead of time that, "Charlie's mobile office was going to be at some shopping center parking lot," let's say in Tyler, Texas, whatever, you know, "from twelve to two on Friday afternoon." And we'd show up, and I would mainly talk to constituents who had problems.

BEISEL: Okay.

LOVE: You know, Social Security, veterans' cases, things like that. Some people would be standing out, you know, passing out brochures, fliers, pamphlets. Charlie would be out talking to folks. Or other times I might be out handing out balloons or putting up posters, you know, whatever. You know, you just do whatever is needed to do. But one time on this '84, in the '84 election, I remember we had helium balloons we were blowing up, and we had this big tank of helium on the bus, and while we were traveling from point A to point B, we'd all be blowing up helium, tying strings around, and I never knew that if you suck in helium, it makes you sound like Donald Duck. I've learned it's not really healthy for you, but of course we were all taking turns sucking in the helium, and Charlie was a stitch, you know, cause he's got this big deep voice, and he was talking like Donald Duck. And some things like, I mean it was just a lot of fun, a lot of fun.

BEISEL: What were some of the reactions of the constituents when you would come? Did most of them seem coming just to kind of see what was happening that day, or would a lot come saying, "Hey, you're finally here in town. While I have you, can I talk to you about problems?"

LOVE: It varied. A lot of them were there just to see Charlie and see what's going on in Washington. And, of course, he always enjoyed visiting one-on-one with his constituents. And then, if somebody did have a problem, you know, they started telling him, he would say, "Well, you know, Peggy, my caseworkers, she's on the bus. Just go talk to her, and she'll get all the information down from you. And when we get back to D.C., we'll take care of it." There were always people from the district office with us as well, and Charlie had caseworkers here in the district as well. So, even if there was more than one person, there were a couple of us taking down the information from them.

BEISEL: Okay. So perhaps things that could be handled locally, they'd deal with. Things that you knew would involve, be on the Hill, then you could deal with that.

LOVE: Yeah.

BEISEL: So how many people are we talking? Ten or fifteen? Twenty?

LOVE: It would vary from place to place. You might have twenty. You might have fifty. And one time I was down here, I remember we went to, Charlie was speaking at a Rotary meeting, and there was a couple of us, his female staffers that came with him. And we walked in, and of course, you know Charlie, you know, he's bigger than life, and he just kind of took over the place when he walked in. And we were introduced as "Charlie's Angels." And I'm like, "Give me a freakin' break." You know. It's like, you know, we hated it then. It was like this chauvinistic thing, but now we really like it because that TV show Charlie's Angels was, I don't know if you . . .

BEISEL: . . . yes . . .

LOVE: . . . I don't know if you remember. It was probably before your time, but there was a TV show on called Charlie's Angels, and so it was kind of a spin-off of that TV show.

BEISEL: Okay. So, they really did introduce his staffers as . . .

LOVE: Yes. Yes. But, it wasn't, you know, Peggy and Linda and Deanne. It was "Charlie's Angels." So, yeah.

BEISEL: Okay. Coming in and doing that.

LOVE: Yes. But, I've got to tell you, it's amazing to me how the staff has stayed together, and it's like a group of sorority sisters. And, you know, when one's experiencing some problems, I mean everybody else will kind of jump in and help out. And, you know, a lot of us have scattered and live in different parts of the country, but I know in the D.C. area if somebody's coming to town, they'll send out an e-mail and we'll all try to get together for lunch or dinner, whoever can make it, can make it. And one of the ladies, Linda MacIntosh, she started in Charlie's D.C. office. In fact, she replaced me when I left doing casework, and then she came down here and worked in his district office. And when she left Charlie, she wound up in Arkansas, and she had cancer. We used to have, my husband and I have property in Arkansas up on the Ozark Mountains, and we'd have a "Charlie's Angels" reunion up there. And she would always come. And, I think it was in the '08 reunion, she announced that she had cancer, and it was inoperable. And we were going over her "bucket list," and she mentioned that she had all these medical bills. She didn't have any health insurance, and she had all these medical bills. And she had a rent house she was trying to get fixed so she could sell it. And one of the other ladies and I just told her, "You know, tell us how much you need to fix the rent house, and we'll just take care of it so you can." And, anyway, we ended up doing that. And, of course, when word got out, some of the other folks pitched in and helped also. But it's just things like that, you know. When one of them's down, everybody pitches in to help out.

BEISEL: Do you think that was not only the mix of the individuals themselves, but the influence of Charlie and his approach?

LOVE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Charlie was very instrumental in all of that. In fact, even after he, Charlie's birthday is June 1st, and while I worked for Charlie, you know, we always had a party. June 1st was always a big day. One year for his birthday we all had T-shirts, and on the front of it, it said, "You can't fire us." On the back of it, it said, "Slaves have to be sold." I mean, you couldn't wear anything like that this day and age, but it was . . .

BEISEL: Unh-uh . . .

LOVE: . . . no, it was funny, you know. And even after he left Congress, we would always try to have a birthday celebration for him on June 1st someplace. And when he was in D.C., one of the ladies would always have it at her house. And, it was interesting because as he was getting older and we were getting older, the party would start like four o'clock Saturday afternoon instead of, you know, eight o'clock Saturday night.

BEISEL: Right.

LOVE: And it would be over by eight o'clock Saturday night [laughter]. But, it was fun. And, of course, that was always an opportunity for everybody to get together.

BEISEL: Right. And see what was going on and catch up.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: What characteristics do you think that he expressed that helped promote that feeling of camaraderie among you all? Was it just his big personality? How did he help create that atmosphere? Because I'm sure other offices are not like that.

LOVE: Yeah. You're absolutely right. I think Charlie just had a knack in the people he hired because it was critical that you were not a prima donna, that you were willing to jump in and do any job that needed to be done. And, like my specialty was casework and health legislation, but if the receptionist was out and you needed to sit at the front desk to answer the phone, you would do that. And to the extent you could, you would work in the casework and stuff. But, you know, you just always chipped in and helped out wherever there was a need.

BEISEL: And was he then in and out of the office and communicating with everybody equally whenever he was in the office?

LOVE: Yeah. And he gave you a lot of responsibility. And that's another, I mean, I like to work independently. I mean, you tell me what needs to be done, and I'll do it. I don't want you over my shoulder. If I'm not doing right, tell me, and I'll fix it. Or if I have a problem, I'll come see you, but just go do your thing, and I'll do my thing. And that's the way Charlie operated, and it was great. Every now and then, if when they were, for example, when legislation was introduced to create a Department of Education, and we were getting letters from the constituents, the majority of them were supporting a new Department of Education. So I would put together more or less a form letter back to the constituents and type them all up, and Charlie would sign them. Or sometimes we'd have a signature pen that we'd sign with. I guess that's okay to say. And based on the constituents that were supporting this legislation, and I'd, we'd reviewed the bill, and to me it seemed like something that Charlie would go along with. I would answer to the constituents saying, "Yes. I'm going to support this bill. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And I would always run it by Charlie, you know, beforehand and give him like a one page of what the bill was about and the majority of constituents wanted his support on it because of these reasons, blah, blah, blah. And then, I would have, "Do you support this? Yes or no?" And I don't recall an instance where we disagreed on something. I would just try to think like Charlie, but he would always have the final say.

BEISEL: Right. So, you would gather the information about this bill, this proposal, understand how the area felt about it, East Texas felt about it, and then give him the quickie overview, the one-page summary. And so, I guess he was having that done by many people in the office, and that's how he was able to get a lot of stuff done simultaneously.

LOVE: Yes. Right.

BEISEL: Well, as we're drawing to a close, which I knew this was going to happen. That just means we have to do another one later.

LOVE: Okay.

BEISEL: Can you tell me just a bit more about your family background? What were your parents' names? That's something that everybody comes up and wants to know.

LOVE: Okay. My mother, her maiden name was Regina Kalenski [spelling ?]. And my father's was James Hardegree [spelling?] And my father was from Newnan, Georgia, and so when I would come down to Charlie's district, even though I was born and raised in the D.C. area, when I told them my dad was from Newnan, Georgia, they'd say, "Well, you've got a little southern blood in you, so that's, maybe you're not too bad." You know. And my mother was from Springfield, Massachusetts. So at times we had the Civil War at our house [laughter]. But, yeah, they met in Washington, D.C. My father was a streetcar driver for awhile, and my mother worked at a restaurant [sounds like Hot Shop]. She was a hostess there, and she used to ride the streetcar home, and that's how they met.

BEISEL: That's how they met, on the streetcar.

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Oh, how fun. And were you an only child?

LOVE: No. I had a brother eleven months older than me, and unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly in '99. He had a massive heart attack in a restaurant. And I've got a younger sister who lives about forty miles from me in Virginia.

BEISEL: Okay. So you grew up in northern Virginia?

LOVE: Yes.

BEISEL: Well, I know in the future, I'd probably like to hear all about the changing environment and landscape of northern Virginia and Washington. I'm sure every year that you've lived in Washington it has changed a lot.

LOVE: Yes. In fact, when my parents first moved out to the Falls Church area, it was farmland, and now it's just a metropolis.

BEISEL: Well, that will be a whole other interview.

LOVE: Okay.

BEISEL: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. It's been very interesting.

LOVE: Thank you.

BEISEL: I've learned a lot more about how our government works - the real way it works [laughter]. And, Charlie Wilson, of course.

LOVE: Charlie was a great guy, a great boss.

END INTERVIEW