Ivey Lee Armstrong Sr., affectionately known as “Mr. Ivey” to many in the Capitol, spent nearly 30 years cooking for senators, policemen and support staff. He died Oct. 15 at the age of 62.
Armstrong will be memorialized Friday at From the Heart Church of Ministries in Suitland, Md., with a 10 a.m. viewing and 11 a.m. service. An Army and Army National Guard veteran, Armstrong earned the National Defense Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and sharpshooter M16 honors, according to his sister Denise Ward.
“To me, to meet Ivey was to love Ivey. He was a very generous individual,” said his brother Jackie Ray Armstrong, one of his eight siblings. “That’s the makeup of him. He just loved people. And he loved babies more.”
Though overworked staffers and overscheduled senators can sometimes take for granted the people who help them get through the days that now seem to stretch perpetually into nights and weekends, Armstrong will be remembered by many as that rare person who provided a brief respite from the acrimony of politics.
With a smile, a “how are you?” and the final question of any Mr. Ivey experience, “pickle?” — fitting for a man born and raised in Mt. Olive, N.C., the pickle capital of the world — Armstrong sent people in the Capitol off with a toasted sandwich and a nod.
The Capitol can be a place packed to the brim with impatient people, toe-tapping and BlackBerry-obsessed, and so the Mr. Ivey experience was not for everyone.
He took his time putting together each and every sandwich — a ritual embraced by many who grew to appreciate what they got in return and were willing to stand in line to do so. He often knew his regulars’ orders by heart.
Colleagues and relatives said Armstrong was one of the most thoughtful, organized and caring people they knew. He was often the first to work in the mornings, his signature backpack in tow, and the last to leave in the evenings, when the carryout in the Senate basement shuttered for the night.
One co-worker, through tears, said that it was “all the little things,” that made Armstrong special.
And multiple people, from reporters to staffers to senators, were quick to express grief about his death and declare him “a sweet man.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., recalled the morning of Christmas Eve 2009, when the Senate was in session to vote on the health care bill and, as so often is the case at odd hours in the Capitol, Armstrong’s griddle was the only game around.
“About 9 o’clock in the morning, when the Capitol was closed, the final vote was coming up . . . we all gathered in the Senate carryout to eat and he was down there making sandwiches and biscuits and all that kind of good stuff. We were all laughing — the only place in town that was open [was where we were]. He was always ready,” Isakson said. “You always knew you could count on the Senate carryout. He was so reliable.
“We’ll miss him. My stomach will miss him, I know that,” Isakson added.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, another regular at the Senate carryout, praised Armstrong as “a fine gentleman.”