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Hill Climbers: Seeing It All

As Congressional staffers go, Patrick Devlin is part of a special breed: He ranks among staffers with two decades of experience on Capitol Hill.

In his 20-year career, Devlin has pretty much seen and experienced it all — and he has a lifetime of good stories to prove it. But his latest move is still a special one: Devlin recently rejoined the office of Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), for whom he worked as a junior staffer early in his career, in the 1990s. Today Devlin serves as deputy chief of staff to the lawmaker.

In the role he began last month, Devlin oversees the legislative and communications operations.

Public service is a bit of a family project for Devlin. Devlin’s father served in World War II and the Korean War, and he would go on to a career in civil service after leaving the military.

“When you have family in service, the assumption was that you’re involved as well,” Devlin said.

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1989, Devlin quickly put his political science degree to use interning for then-House Armed Services Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.). As an intern, Devlin held the not-so-glamorous duty of answering phone calls.

But he wouldn’t last as unpaid help for very long; after several months as an intern, Devlin was hired as Aspin’s driver at the age of 23.

“It was a fascinating experience professionally and personally,” Devlin said. “To be a new graduate and to be around someone with that caliber of knowledge. … It was the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then the start of the Gulf War. Most junior staffers don’t get to be around that incredible history with someone who has that expertise in defense.”

After Aspin’s departure from Congress in 1993 — the lawmaker would become Defense secretary under President Bill Clinton — Devlin joined former Rep. Jim Chapman (D-Texas) as a defense aide.

That stint with Chapman led Devlin to try his hand at communications, and he enlisted as a press aide to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

After a year and a half with DeLauro, Devlin signed up for the job that would come to define his career: a legislative aide to Etheridge. He liked the experience and stayed with Etheridge for 11 years, eventually rising to legislative director.

“He’s a very down-to-earth guy,” Devlin said of Etheridge. “He’s in office for the right reasons. … He’s a big champion of education and helped me understand how the issue ties to national security.”

[IMGCAP(2)]After more than a decade with the North Carolina lawmaker, Devlin became communications director to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). As an undergraduate, Devlin had spent a year in the Big Sky State.

Devlin stayed with Tester for two years before returning to Etheridge’s office. He said he looks forward to the demands that come with taking on office management responsibilities.

“It’s a very evolutionary kind of role shaped around what best fits Bobby Ray’s needs,” Devlin said. “In some ways it’s like a homecoming. But even though I am very comfortable, everything always changes on the Hill.”

Even with a more demanding workload, Devlin isn’t one to shirk his other responsibilities. The staffer and his wife have two grade-school children: Patrick Jr., 9, and Michael Henry, 7.

Devlin’s time with his sons often makes him a part-time coach, historian and outdoors educator.

Last fall, Devlin served as an assistant coach to his sons’ football team, the Fort Hunt Federals.

And as a Northern Virginia native — Devlin grew up in Vienna and now lives in Alexandria — Devlin said he’s known to regale his boys with stories of the Redskins’ glory years.

“It’s been a long time since we won, but you can’t forget that the Redskins do have three Super Bowl wins,” Devlin said. “Our DVDs of the Super Bowl years are well-worn at this point.”

The family regularly has outings to Virginia’s Civil War battlefields and makes use of their proximity to Mount Vernon to learn all things George Washington.

Devlin said another family interest — or “obsession” — includes organic vegetable gardening. Each year, crops in the Devlin family garden include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, beets and chard.

“We all love being outside and taking part in the family science experiment,” Devlin said. “The boys get a kick of watching things grow out of the compost pile.”

Devlin also said Etheridge acts as his agriculture mentor. Before coming to Congress, Etheridge was a tobacco farmer. “We compare notes on growing tomatoes,” Devlin said. “He keeps tabs on me.”

And if gardening is a family hobby, then fishing is Devlin’s personal passion. He doesn’t let fishing escape as a teaching tool, though. “It’s a great way for the boys to learn the seasons,” Devlin said.

The staffer counts catching a 45-inch striped bass off Bloody Point in the Chesapeake Bay as his proudest fishing moment.

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