Bingaman Tribute to Ed McGaffigan

September 7, 2007
03:14 PM

“Mr. President, let me speak as in morning business about a dear friend who died this last Sunday, and that is Ed McGaffigan.  Ed has been a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now for over 10 years.  He is the longest serving member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the history of our country. Prior to that, he was a staff member in my office working with me on foreign policy issues, on defense policy issues, on science and technology issues.  The country has lost a great public servant, and we have all lost a great friend with the passing of Ed McGaffigan.  

“When I first came to the Senate in 1983, I was appointed to the Armed Services Committee, and I remained on that committee for essentially 20 years. When I first got here, I needed the help, obviously, of someone who knew something about foreign policy and defense policy, and I called Professor Joe Nye at the Harvard's Kennedy School to ask if he could recommend anyone.  His immediate response to me was: There is a young man working in the White House Science Office named Ed McGaffigan.  I would recommend Ed without any reservation.  If you could persuade Ed to work for you in this capacity, you would be extremely well served.’  As it happened, I was able to persuade Ed to do that in 1983.  

“He worked with me on defense issues and foreign policy issues and science and technology issues for 13½ years.  Then he moved on and was appointed by President Clinton to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  He was appointed to a term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then reappointed to a second term by President Clinton and reappointed once again by President Bush.  

“I will always be grateful to Professor Nye for his immediate and superb recognition of Ed.  Ed had many virtues.  He was a man of great faith.  He was faithful to his God, of course, his family, his job, and his country.  He was known for his love of his family, his wife Peggy, and his children, Eddie and Meggy.  He saw his job as public service.  He made a decision early in his career to pursue public service.  He worked in the State Department, he worked in the White House science office, he worked in the Senate, and he worked as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  In each position, he demonstrated great ability and uncompromising integrity.

“Ed made it his business to understand whatever the issue was at-hand better than anybody else.  He had the intellectual capacity and the determination to do exactly that.  He sought expert advice, but he was not one who would accept any advice at face value.  He was trained as a physicist; he was a physicist.  He had an extremely keen mind, and he was in the enviable position of being able to be his own expert, having his own expert views on many subjects.

“The second advantage I would cite for Ed in his public service was his courage.  He employed that courage time and again when he stepped up to be the teller of truth. One recent column described him as a ‘debunker of hype.’  There was another story that was written about Ed this week, where he was referred to as a ‘feisty advocate for nuclear technology.’  I can see how someone might interpret his statements and actions that way, but, in fact, Ed saw himself not as an advocate for a particular technology -- nuclear or any other -- but instead as a person who was unafraid to tell the truth even when that went against the popular view, even when it meant dispelling widely shared myths.

“Ed had the intellectual ability and the courage to accomplish a tremendous amount.  There was no question or surprise when he chose to use that intellectual ability and courage to face the illness that did finally claim his life.  He did all of the reading that was doable on the subject of that illness.  He asked hard questions.  He took in the answers, and he managed his life for the last eight years in the best way possible.  

“As sometimes happens with cancer -- which is what ultimately prevailed -- there are days of remission and there are also days of illness.  Recently, he enjoyed a reprieve from the pain and discomfort that was caused by the disease and the treatment.  Bob Simon and Sam Fowler of the Energy Committee and myself were fortunate to have lunch with Ed in the Senate dining room in June.  It was a typical meeting with Ed.  He was focused on the future, on how to accomplish the important work of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  He was a devoted public servant to the end of his days.  He achieved an enormous amount.  Much of his ability to achieve in these final months and throughout his career, of course, was due to the superb work of his staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  They deserve great credit, as well, for helping him in these final months. Ed must have been one of the few hospice patients in the country who continued to work four days a week.  As far as I know, he is the only hospice patient to testify before the Senate, in July.

“Ed made the most of the reprieve he was granted, but this last week his illness came forward and he died on Sunday.  He was buried in Arlington, Virginia , today.  The Senate is a poorer place for his passing, and the country has lost a great public servant.  We have all lost a very good friend.”


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