Allen Nissenson

In 1994, I came to Washington as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow. After an incredible 10 week orientation, meeting with the luminaries of health policy, and living through the 1994 elections and flip of the Congress to the Republicans, I began my quest to find an office in which to work for the remainder of the year. I interviewed with all of the Democrats on the Labor and Finance Committees- I was (and am) a nephrologist deeply concerned about the care of the complex, chronically ill, and underserved. Once I had met with all of the staff folks and some members, I remember my meeting with Paul's staff and the joy I felt at having found my home. 1994-5 with Paul and Sheila, Alex Clyde- a first year (but incredibly knowledgeable and experienced) health LA- was one of the seminal times of my life and for my family.

My wife Charna and daughter Ariel were with me in Washington that year, and it was magical- before 9/11 with access to everything and part of one of the most significant and dynamic activities I could imagine. I was immediately incredibly impressed by and drawn to Paul and Sheila. They were the same age as my wife and I, intellectual, Jewish, committed to helping others- values that were so strongly instilled in me by my parents. As the year progressed we worked on many important issues, but it was not the policy work that will be the lasting memory for me- it is something much more personal. When I went home each night I would tell Charna and Ariel about my day working with Paul and they were insistent (Ariel was only 5) that they wanted to get to meet him and Sheila. All year I worked on Paul and Sheila to come to our home for dinner- we were renting a lovely, tiny place in Chevy Chase DC. Finally it happened- we had a definite date (of course I had to drive them from the office) and Paul and Sheila came over to our house for dinner. That night as Sheila chatted with Charna in the kitchen and Ariel, Paul and I sat on the floor in the living room and played together I realized that the Wellstones were really all that is good and right about America-- decent, hardworking people who sacrificed so much to make life better for others. As I am writing this, Ariel is home for a couple of weeks after graduating from college, and as the three of us enjoy this time together- Charna, Ariel, and I - we will always remember that night in 1995 when we got to spend real time with the Wellstones and for a few hours get to really understand the beauty and wonder of their relationship and their dedication to people and to their country. We miss them very much, and always will. I am attaching a photo of Paul and me- some say it looks like we were separated at birth- it is one of the most cherished possessions I have.