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Bob C.
Republican TN

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  • Tribute to Ramona Lessen

    by Senator Bob Corker

    Posted on 2013-02-26

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    CORKER. Madam President, I came to the U.S. Senate in 2006, and I was the only new Republican elected to the Senate that year. Many people considered that a great accomplishment. But my greatest accomplishment of 2006 was convincing Ramona Lessen--who is sitting with us today--to put off retirement for a few more years and stay on as my scheduler and executive assistant. And after 6 years in Washington, I know without a doubt that the biggest success of my first term is that Ramona did not fire me--until now.

    Ramona is retiring this week after 34 years. I am told that she violated child labor laws by starting work when she was 5 years old.

    Ramona came to the Senate in 1979 to work for Senator Larry Pressler from her native South Dakota. She worked for Senator Pressler for 16 years, plus 2 more when he was in the House.

    When Ramona began working in the Senate in 1979, Jimmy Carter was President, Robert Byrd was the majority leader, and Howard Baker was the Republican leader. And probably most relevant to Ramona, ESPN started broadcasting, Post-It notes were invented, and one of the most popular songs was Gloria Gaynor's ``I Will Survive.'' She has not only survived but thrived in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades.

    In 1994, she took another new Tennessee Senator named Bill Frist under her wing. She worked for Senator Frist for 12 years. And then, in 2006, I convinced her to work in our office for just 1 year. That year has turned into 6.

    In that time, Ramona has learned a lot about me, but I have learned a whole lot about her. I have learned that Ramona loves music. In fact, her first job was as a high school band director. She is a great piano player. She has played the piano in my home and at staff gatherings. She plays for her church. Ramona loves country music, and I think that is a big reason she has adopted Tennessee as her second home State.

    I have learned that it is not too hard to know where you stand with Ramona. Occasionally, I will make a request or a suggestion, and Ramona responds with a certain expression--it is a polite term for a look of disapproval. I know exactly where I stand and sometimes--candidly, often--I recalibrate my position or request.

    I have learned that Ramona is a huge sports fan. If the Masters or the U.S. Open is on, I am not going to interrupt her. She also loves football, and that is appropriate because I have also learned that she is a master of the audible.

    In 2008, I was heavily involved in an effort to bring Volkswagen's U.S. production facility to Chattanooga. Just before one of the final meetings in Tennessee, a plane full of decisionmakers was stuck on the tarmac in Germany without clearance to land in the United States--some kind of paperwork issue. Anybody who has been involved in a major recruitment effort knows that in something like this, even a small glitch can be a major setback. The Volkswagen folks called me. I talked with Ramona. I am not entirely sure what she did, but I know it was all totally legal and aboveboard. At one point, she was sitting there jockeying several phone calls on the switchboard and literally talking the plane off the runway in Germany. What I do know for sure is that the Volkswagen executives landed in the United States highly impressed with Ramona Lessen. And shortly thereafter they chose Chattanooga for their U.S. production facility.

    That was a home run, no doubt. But I think Ramona's greatest contribution is her ability to make a staff a family and an office a home. Ramona makes sure we are celebrating each other--babies being born, people getting married, and life in general. At Christmastime, she makes sure the office is decorated and filled with Christmas music. Her favorite moments in the office are when someone brings in a baby or a child. That child learns quickly, as we all do, that Ramona keeps a basket of candy on her desk. And there is a good chance that child's picture is on Ramona's cherished bulletin board. Her loud, infectious laugh is a staple at staff gatherings. It will be sorely missed.

    There is a memorable scene in the movie ``The Queen'' where Queen Elizabeth tells Prime Minister Tony Blair: ``You are my tenth Prime Minister, Mr. Blair.'' I am proud to have been Ramona Lessen's third Senator. Senators come and go, but for 34 years Ramona Lessen has been a constant in the Senate. The Senate is better for it. Our country and Tennessee are better for it. I know Senator Pressler and Senator Frist are better for it. Our staffs are better for it. And I am better for it.

    Ramona, I thank you for taking pity on a new Senator and for showing me the ropes over the past 6 years. I thank you for your friendship. I wish you and Joe the very best in the years to come. I know when the time comes, Tennessee, your second home State, will welcome you to retirement with open arms.

    I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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