Knocking on Doors Led to Hill Career for Retiring Schelble

Posted July 31, 2007 at 4:55pm

In his 33 years on Capitol Hill, John Schelble has seen a lot. Including frisbee-throwing and skateboarding contests in the hallways of the House — judged by a Representative, no less.

In fact, Schelble says these sorts of things were common in the earlier years of his Hill tenure.

“We threw hall parties, frequently,” he said. “These kinds of things cemented relationships between parties, staff and Members.”

Schelble (pronounced Shelby) seems to be from a different generation of Hill staff. It is one that he reminisces about with the look of a sage, while avoiding any sort of cliché “good old times” attitude that would lead the younger crowd to dismiss his insights. Instead, he imparts the attitudes of his generation with charm and candor.

When Schelble was 11 years old, he visited the Capitol with his family and immediately knew he wanted to work there. So when he came to Washington, D.C., for college — attending The George Washington University because it was closest to the Capitol — he knew exactly what he needed to do.

Starting at one end of a hallway in Congress, he knocked on the first door he came to. It was that of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). And Byrd’s office did not need an intern.

The second office was that of then-Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), and he did need someone. So Schelble joined his staff, eventually working his way up to a paid intern. His experience with Talmadge, a member of the “Watergate Congress,” was one that Schelble cherished.

He worked there from 1972 to 1974 and then was hired in the office of former Rep. William Brodhead (D-Mich.), where he worked in various positions until 1983. He then spent the next 10 years with former Rep. William Lehman (D-Fla.) and worked for a short period for former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.). Schelble also worked for then-Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) and later in the office of her son, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), where he served as chief of staff until 2007.

“How can you go wrong?” he said of his years in the House.

His commitment to public service constantly motivated him.

“You’re in service to your country, you learn new things every day, you work with first-rate people, and you can work on things with a lasting, meaningful importance,” he said. “You get to make history.”

He stresses the need for those working on the Hill to recognize the service component of their job, explaining that too many young staffers view their time on the Hill as transitory instead of a career destination that can have lasting importance. And he stresses the need for Members to view themselves as part of this lasting community as well.

“The culture of the House today is more partisan, more contentious and less cooperative,” he said. “Relationships are not as strong today.”

After speaking to colleagues, however, it seems Schelble has fostered strong relationships on the Hill.

“I don’t think there was a bad thing you could say about John. I call him now to talk to him,” said Joyce Postell, Meek’s 17th district director who has worked with Schelble for four years in D.C. “He’s the person that just kept everything going, that if there was a problem, you could always go to him for a solution. He was a people person.”

Schelble has a wife, Ellen, a daughter, Erika Edwards, a son, Nathan, and one grandchild, William Matthew. He earned his master’s degree from George Mason University in public administration “because it was something interesting to do,” he said.

Schelble plans to “take a few months off, see what life is like without a BlackBerry and what it is like to read for fun,” among other things.