Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are frequently at odds. One thing they do agree on is the good job Donald Ritchie has done in his many years in the Senate Historical Office, including in his role as Senate historian since 2009.
On the floor Thursday morning, McConnell called the retiring Ritchie "one of the smartest guys around here" and said, “I don’t think any of us would want to face him on 'Jeopardy.'"
And Reid said the historian was one of the few people who could quell his rowdy caucus. "Every week I begin my caucus by calling on the Senate historian and he talks to us about so many fascinating things. ... And quite frankly, it shuts up my caucus. When he shows up, they suddenly are attentive," Reid said.
Among his achievements — including writing several books and serving as a resource for Dan Brown when he was writing "The DaVinci Code," and Robert Caro for his work on Lyndon Johnson — perhaps one of the most extensive is the Senate Oral History Project .
As we reported here in 2010, “Ritchie has had the chance to interview staffers such as a black clerk who worked in Congress in the 1930s as well as the first black woman to eat lunch in the newly integrated Senate cafeteria.”
The Senate Historical Office was created in the 1975, and in March 1976 the first Senate Historian, Richard Baker, hired Ritchie. A Marine, Ritchie received his Ph.D in history from the University of Maryland. Among Ritchie's books , "The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction" came out in 2010 and he's even written a couple on the press, including, "Reporting From Washington: A History of the Washington Press Corps."
Ritchie has served as a valuable resource for journalists, including ones at this publication. Back in 2010, for instance, Ritchie agreed to discuss Senate history as part of a video series for Roll Call.
His last day in the office is May 15.
Associate Historian Betty Koed will take Ritchie's place as historian. Assistant Historian Katherine A. Scott will become associate historian.
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