Office Space: Not-So-Still Life With Roskam

When Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) first entered his new office — Suite 507 in the Cannon House Office Building — and was greeted by a large blank wall, he knew exactly who to ask for help.

“I said, ‘Honey I’ve got a big, big wall space — how about filling it up?’— Roskam says proudly. He gestures to the large oil painting created by his wife, Elizabeth.

[IMGCAP(1)]The artwork, which takes up most of the wall, features a parade of supporters wearing red, white and blue Roskam T-shirts, holding signs and marching behind a banner alongside Roskam, his wife and their four children. The painting took a year to create.

“She took kind of a composite of different people. So this is obviously me and she was kind of generous with me frankly,— Roskam says with a chuckle as he points to a grinning visage of himself looking slightly younger. “Still, when she comes out, she’ll bring her oils and she’ll get up here and do some fixing because artists are never satisfied.—

That painting is not the only evidence of Roskam’s life and work. When Roskam isn’t spending time with his family in his hometown of Wheaton, Ill., or legislating in Washington, he enjoys traveling on Congressional delegations to various parts of the world. Since entering Congress in 2007, he’s traveled to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Africa. He displays the maps from these trips throughout his office. One hangs on the wall, while another is tucked under a sheet of glass atop his desk.

During these trips, Roskam always carries a map. Upon meeting foreign leaders, he likes to ask them to sign the portion that represents their country or region. Last year, for instance, Roskam had Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority sign a map that he later had signed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. When Roskam presented the map for Olmert to sign, he was careful to fold it in order to hide Fayyad’s signature. The two men never knew that they both signed the map.

“So who knows, this may be the only document that those two men have actually signed. So that’s kind of fun,— he says.

A love of travel runs in the Roskam family. In 2001, Roskam’s parents, Swede and Martha, were traveling in Vietnam on business when they came across a number of United States military dog tags being sold in the street as souvenirs.

“To make a long story short, they purchased 37 dog tags, came back and they’ve been about the business of returning them to either families or in many cases the Vietnam veterans— themselves, Roskam says.

In the past several years, Roskam’s parents have crisscrossed the nation to meet with soldiers or their surviving families. In some cases, they have gone so far as to hire a private investigator to track down veterans. In honor of this project, Roskam has a framed article about his parents and their mission hanging in the foyer of Suite 507.

Long before the dog tag project, the Roskam family’s penchant for good deeds led the Congressman to the White House. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan awarded Roskam’s father the President’s Volunteer Action Award for his involvement in Educational Assistance Limited, a nonprofit that raises money to help underprivileged students pay for college. Roskam’s parents were unable to attend the awards ceremony because his father needed to have emergency gallbladder surgery. They sent their son on their behalf. In honor of this special day, Roskam has a large photograph of him standing with Reagan and the first lady hanging in his personal office.

“During the course of the conversation — it was a very nice White House lunch — I asked Nancy Reagan if the president would be willing to call my dad in the hospital, and lo and behold, that night the phone rings and my dad gets a call from Camp David,— Roskam says with a big smile. “I just thought that was a very nice thing that President Reagan did, and I just thought it was a great gesture.—

Beyond these mementos of family and travel, Roskam’s office is scarcely decorated save the plaques and district maps that are typical of any Congressional office. It is worth noting, however, that Roskam keeps a copy of the Dr. Seuss book “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish— as a humorous reference to false rumors that the Congressman wanted to ban Dr. Seuss books from schools in his district. Another section of the office is barren of decorations save a Notre Dame flag — an ode to a staffer’s alma mater — and a large American flag that hangs by itself on a blank white wall. Roskam says the flag is there for motivation.

“It’s just a big old flag to remind them who they’re working for,— he says.

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