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Family Ties on the Hill

Late Senate Secretary Left Legacy of Public Service

Mingling with famous Washington, D.C., politicians at dinner parties is not the typical childhood memory for most. But for the children of Stan Kimmitt, who served as Secretary of the Senate from 1977 to 1981, it was all part of growing up.

Kimmitt was known around Capitol Hill as the quintessential public servant who had a knack for mentoring freshman Senators. A retired Army colonel with an irresistible Irish charm, Senators and staffers continue to remember Kimmitt as a man who loved helping others. Today, his five surviving children continue in their father’s footsteps, as they serve in a variety of government positions.

Judy Rainey, the youngest of seven Kimmitt children and deputy chief of staff for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), said to this day Senators and staffers tell her stories about her father, who died in 2004. [IMGCAP(1)]

“After he died, I can’t tell you the number of e-mails and letters from people I never even heard of before,” Rainey said. “I never remembered him turning anyone down when they asked him for help.”

Born and raised in Montana, Stan Kimmitt began a career in the military after being drafted during World War II while still in his early 20s. He met his wife, Eunice, an American Red Cross nurse in Germany, and the two married in 1945.

Stan Kimmitt later served as a government liaison for the Army on Capitol Hill from 1955 until Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) asked him to be secretary of majority for the Democratic Party. Mansfield was one of Kimmitt’s professors at the University of Montana and would eventually become Senate Majority Leader.

In his position as Secretary of the Senate, Stan Kimmitt was known for being a problem solver and was beloved by many of the Senators from both sides of the aisle.

“He was [in the Senate] not asking what was best for him, what was next for him but what was best for the country, and I think the Senators sensed that,” said Bob Kimmitt, the eldest of the Kimmitt children who is deputy secretary at the Department of Treasury.

In honor of Stan Kimmitt, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) renamed the Montana delegation’s monthly breakfast event as the Stan Kimmitt Breakfast Series earlier this year.

Jim Messina, chief of staff for Baucus, said Stan Kimmitt was a mentor figure to Baucus during his earlier years in the Senate.

“Stan Kimmitt in many ways exemplifies public service,” Messina said. “[Stan] touched the whole delegation.”

Stan Kimmitt left the Senate in 1980, when the Republican Party took over Congress. But Kimmitt never stopped working in the vicinity of Capitol Hill, representing companies such as Hughes Helicopter and Boeing Co. in Congress. In 1991, he founded the political consulting firm Kimmitt, Senter, Coates & Weinfurter.

In 2004, Stan Kimmitt passed away after giving a speech at a Democratic Leadership Council reception for retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). Bob Kimmitt said his father had given the final speech for the night and was regaling Breaux’s young staffers with stories about their boss. Bob quipped that his father died doing what he loved, “with a bunch of centrist Democrats” and saying goodbye to a friend.

“He died with his wingtips on,” Bob Kimmitt said. “If he couldn’t be with his natural family, he would have wanted to be with his second family” of Senators and staffers.

A close-knit military family, the Kimmitts moved often — from Utah to Oklahoma and from Virginia to Germany. Mary Kimmitt recalls how her mother, who was a school bus driver in the 1950s, drove the family around Europe during vacations while they were living in Germany.

Mary also remembers the large dinner parties held at their house.

Stan Kimmitt “would invite everyone home and say, ‘Oh mother, we’re having people over for dinner,’” Mary said.

The family eventually settled in Virginia when Stan began his work in the Senate. Four of the children remain in the area.

The Kimmitt family has had its share of loss. One sibling, Margaret Kimmitt, died as an infant in the late 1950s; two others passed away more recently, Kathy Ross in 2002 and Tom Kimmitt in 2003. Mother Eunice died in 2005.

To his children, Stan Kimmitt was a humble man who brought out in them a desire to go into public service. His children said he never explicitly asked for any of them to follow in his footsteps. But through his example, all seven of Stan Kimmitt’s children followed his path and worked in public service in one form or another.

Bob Kimmitt served as ambassador to Germany and is a West Point graduate.

“To see how much not just professional enjoyment but also personal enjoyment he got out of a life in public service … what a model that was [for his children],” Bob Kimmitt said.

Kathy Ross worked for the National Park Service in the District of Columbia and for former Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.). Tom Kimmitt was an emergency room physician. Mary Laxton worked for the National Park Service, while her twin brother Mark Kimmitt, also a West Point graduate, currently is deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East.

Mary Laxton said she grew to love the outdoors during the family trips in Germany. She said working with the National Park Service was her way of serving in the country.

Mark Kimmitt said his father’s service in the military continues to inspire him. He said his father is still remembered by many of the men he led during World War II.

“He showed me the true essence of what an Army officer could be, and those are the core identities that I strove to emulate in the military,” Mark Kimmitt said.

Jay Kimmitt, also a West Point graduate, worked at the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Judy Rainey, who returned to the Senate in Lautenberg’s office, has worked for the institution for a total of 30 years.

“[The Senate] is my home,” Rainey said. “I felt like I grew up here.”

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