“I’m in Washington DC. I’m working for a Congressman and John Kennedy is President. It was so new. It was such a special time. It was a short time overall but for the age I was, just so many things. I loved it. I just loved it.”
On semester break from college in December 1962, my Mom got the phone call that she had received an internship assignment to work for Maine Congressman Stanley Tupper at his offfice in Washington D.C. She’d start on February 1st.
Diane O’Donnell, was 20 years old and a junior studying history and government at the University of Maine in Orono. She had spent her Freshman and Sophomore years at the University of Maine at Portland (UMP, which later merged with Gorham State College and was renamed the University of Southern Maine in the 1970’s).
That year two students were able to participate in the internship program sponsored by the National Center for Education and Politics and the University of Maine. Mom met the other student, Nancy O’Mara, who had received the internship to work in Senator Edmund Muskie’s office. Nancy’s brother said he’d drive them down to D.C., and a week later, they were on the road.
The internship was a life-changer. Mom did “about everything except vote on the House floor,” through the mentorship of First District Congressman Tupper and his staff. She worked with the Maine delegation that included Senators Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith, Second District Congressman Clifford McIntire and staffs during the Kennedy administration. She experienced the newness of a big city like Washington D.C., yet met a hometown boy within a month of being there. She and he had grown up one year and one mile apart in Portland, Maine but had never met.
I wish my Mom was still here to tell you the story but in many ways she is. Before she died, we sat at her kitchen table with a recorder and talked. I remember how electric she got when she went from the quote that starts this piece to describing her first few days in Washington D.C. I’m lucky we had that conversation and that I can still hear her voice. I’m also lucky that Mom held onto photos, newspaper clippings, letters and other artifacts from that time in her life. It’s like a mini-library I didn’t know existed, recently discovered in old boxes in the basement. Last but not least, I’ve got Dad around to help me fact-check on the love segment, although I’m sure he’s glad he gets to tell his side of the story!
My Mom’s experience as a young Mainer coming of age in 1963 is the subject I’m exploring in this Maine Leads blog series. It starts with her arrival and orientation in Washington D.C., continues along that spring with her internship and unexpected courtship, stays on with her in D.C. that summer when she was hired as a staff member, then follows her back to the University of Maine in Orono for her senior year. As she continued her studies and her work for Congressman Tupper that fall, history was made when a President of the United States visited the University of Maine. One month after President Kennedy spoke at Homecoming Day in Orono, he was assassinated. Later that year, my Dad proposed to my Mom in an apple orchard behind Androscoggin Hall.