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Capitol Hill Remembers ‘Original Godfather for Congressional Staffers’

Durbin hosts memorial service for late chief of staff Ed Greelegs

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., speaks at Ed Greelegs' memorial service on Wednesday. (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., speaks at Ed Greelegs' memorial service on Wednesday. (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)

At the standing room only memorial service for former Senate chief of staff Ed Greelegs, a colleague asked if other chiefs could raise their hands. More than 20 were present.

Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy’s former chief of staff Luke Albee then repeated a lesson Greelegs had taught him: “You’re a much better human being, and you go through life more fulfilled if no one’s invisible.”

Greelegs, an indisputably popular Hill veteran, retired from his role as Sen. Richard J. Durbin’s chief of staff 10 years ago after working for him for more than 15 years.

Greelegs died on March 28 at age 66 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

On Wednesday morning, Durbin’s office hosted a memorial service for him in the Kennedy Caucus room.

“He was the original godfather for Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill. You had a problem? Go see Ed,” former Illinois Democratic Rep. Marty Russo said.

Russo gave him his first job in politics, he said, when “I realized how smart this kid was.”

He worked on tax policy for Russo and the former congressman added that three of his former staffers came to the service from Chicago to honor Greelegs.

“Before I say another word,” Durbin began his remarks and paused, “In honor of Ed Greelegs.” The senator loosened his tie like his former chief to laughter in the room.

Durbins said Greelegs became his chief of staff when he was around 40 years old, about the same time he married his wife, Susan, and became a stepfather to her children.

He stressed how uninterested in the spotlight Greelegs was. He never sat next to him on the Senate floor until the day he was retiring and Durbin wanted to thank him for his service in a floor speech.

“Ed’s favorite president was FDR, a president who used every level of government,” Durbin said. “Ed knew everybody. By name and everybody knew Ed. From Teddy Kennedy to the elevator operator, the men and women who cleaned our office and polished the floor.”

The senator shared that while on a congressional delegation with former Sen. Tom Daschle in Afghanistan, someone approached him and told him that he knew Greelegs.

“In the middle of a war zone!” Durbin remarked.

Greeleg’s Parkinson’s lead to eventual dementia, a NTCA blog reported.

The senator added, “Even as parts of his memory was failing, that passion for politics never changed.”

“Our friend Ed is at peace but his influence remains with the lives he touched,” Durbin said to the packed room. “Just look around you.”

Durbin brought up Greeleg’s love for books, and collecting them, which other’s touched on, too.

“I used to think the tower of books he had in his office was to guarantee he would never leave because he just couldn’t face packing up his books,” Durbin said.

He added that Greelegs would cut out articles from newspapers to save and didn’t like technology.

 “He barely tolerated BlackBerries,” Durbin said.

Greelegs’ wife Susan joked at the podium about when she first discovered when they first got married how many books he had stashed away in a closet.

Albee shared a memory from when he was Virginia Democratic Sen. Warner’s chief of staff and was in traffic on Constitution Avenue on his way to pick up his child.

“I looked over and in the next car over by himself was Ed Greelegs and he was reading this enormous book,” Albee said. “He rolled down his window and he said ‘Luke, have you read the David McCullough biography on John Adams? It’s so riveting.’”

Russo joked that while Greelegs worked for him, he would often change Capitol Hill offices so Greelegs would have to clean his desk.

“You know they talk about ‘big data’ today? Ed Greelegs was big data,” Russo said.

“Behind every senator is a great staff, and if you’re lucky, a great chief of staff,” Durbin said. “He was my friend. He made me laugh, a lot. He made me think, deeply.”

Greelegs joined Durbin’s staff in 1990 when he was a congressman. In addition to Durbin and Russo, Greelegs also worked for former Reps. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut and Bob C. Eckhardt of Texas, the Washington Post reported. He was a Washington-area native.

Shortly after he retired in 2007, he moved to Florida. He died at a care facility in Sarasota.

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