But what really struck me was the way she cared for others around her. If we were working at the office late and sent out for dinner, she would always say, “Make sure there is enough for everybody.” As she had a sweet tooth, both in her office and her Capitol hideaway, she always had to have a box of chocolates handy. When she brought them out, she’d take one and then pass the box around and encourage everyone to take some.
Once, when I was walking with her through the Capitol, a reporter stopped to ask her if she had heard about a health issue Senator Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had had. She hadn’t heard but immediately said that she knew he was strong and would be okay. When the reporter walked away, she turned to us and said, “I need to send Mitch a note.”
During another late night, as she had to vote on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, we brought her memos explaining each of them. She was a bit irritated and asked us why she was just seeing these now, 30 minutes before she would vote on them. All who knew her knew how hard she worked. She wanted to study every issue well and was always prepared before making any decision. We replied that we had just received notice of these amendments an hour before. Her tone transformed, and she apologized for being curt with us. No apology was, of course, necessary because we were frustrated as well with the short notice, but that was just her way.
Where I really got to know her was on her last trip home to her beloved San Francisco for the August 2023 recess. I needed to visit a cleanup and decontamination site at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco and offered to fly back with the senator. The day started a little hectic as I got to the house, and we were running late. The senator was still upstairs getting ready. Meanwhile, our chief of staff is texting me, telling me to get a move on. I hate rushing my wife to the airport, and now I had to rush the senator. I inadvertently stepped across the threshold of her bedroom, which she didn’t like at all. She asked, “Do we need to leave right now?” “Yes, senator, please.” As we left for airport, the senator, as always, was in the front seat with her dog Kirby on her lap. We got there and made the flight on time.
This was an experience I will always treasure, as I had her all to myself for about the next nine hours. She shared with me stories of growing up in San Francisco and exercising polo ponies. We talked about Tony Bennet’s recent passing, and she sang to me a few lines from his iconic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” She still missed her late husband, who passed in 2022, and she wanted me to ensure that Kirby, in the carrier below our feet, was ok. She really loved that dog.
There are people in your life that you admire and respect, and she was certainly one of those for me and many others. And then there are people in your life you wish to emulate. If people one day will say that I have the grace of Dianne Feinstein, that will be high praise indeed.
What shined through for me that day was what can only be described as her grace. To every person who helped her that day, the TSA security personnel, the flight attendants, and others, she always took the time to say thank you. She also would compliment random people we passed on their clothing or their hair or just being nice to her. When we got to San Francisco Airport, we had to wait in the terminal for a few minutes, and people recognized her and came up to say hello. To every one of them, she was just as sweet as could be, asking who they were and where they were from and thanking them for being so supportive. I was frankly a bit tired from the flight, but she, at 90 years old, never skipped a beat.
When we got to her lovely home in Pacific Heights, I thought, “Ok now she’ll want to rest.” But she insisted on giving me the tour. After the downstairs, she wanted to show me the upper floors. I headed to the elevator, but she insisted on the stairs, and up she went with me in tow. Then she suggested that we sit down with a glass of her favorite, California chardonnay. She kept bottles of the stuff around the office and hideaway. The day after she passed, the staff broke out the remainder and toasted to her. As I got up to leave, she asked if I had a place to stay. My family lived nearby, so I said I did. I do not doubt that she would have given me a room in her home had I needed it.
There are people in your life that you admire and respect, and she was certainly one of those for me and many others. And then there are people in your life you wish to emulate. If people one day will say that I have the grace of Feinstein, that will be high praise indeed.