He was the guardian at the gates of the House Democratic cloakroom for 38 years, yet Herb Shanks said he really has no favorites among the thousands of lawmakers who passed by his post.
"I met a lot of nice people over the years -- people from all over and from all different countries," said Shanks, 74, who retired just before the Memorial Day recess.
Born and raised in Aquasco in Southern Maryland, Shanks said he was looking for a job in 1973 and heard about an opening in the Capitol, basically serving as a guard at the entrance to the Democratic cloakroom, where members often gather off the House floor.
He remained at the post through seven House speakers, the Watergate scandal, the Reagan revolution, the Clinton impeachment and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but he never varied in the way he handled his job. "You just treat people right and respect them," he said.
The job requires some long hours, including marathon sessions when he "worked all weekend." That was never a problem, he said.
"Herb, you have been a wonderful friend," House Majority Leader Hoyer told Shanks in a special tribute May 28 when he and his twin daughters, Andrea and Angela, joined the members on the House floor and were treated to multiple ovations.
"You have made everybody's day brighter every time they came in contact with you," Hoyer said. "You have been so thoughtful, so courteous, so kind, that all of us have been advantaged, and our lives have been made better by your service."
House Speaker Pelosi also praised Shanks. "He has been a face of warm welcome to all members," she said. "Herb's dedicated service is representative of the many staff who serve this institution."
Hoyer noted that the doorkeepers, cloakroom attendants and other support staff in the House are remarkably unbiased in the midst of partisan warfare.
"For those of you in the Republican cloakroom, I've had the opportunity to come over to your side, and I love the folks that you have working on your side," Hoyer said. "Like Herb, they treat us all alike. There are no Republicans or Democrats for them. They're just members of Congress who serve together and work together on behalf of our country."
This article appears in the June 19, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.