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Tim Kaine’s Former Roommate: “He’s the best person I have ever met”; “His nature is to find common ground”

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From Tim Kaine’s former roommate…what a testimonial!

Full Disclosure: My Roommate is Running for VP

Thirty-five years ago I shared a 4 bedroom rental house with two law students. I was working as an Assistant Movie Theater Manager in Boston, being paid $150 a week, which I believe was the federally mandated minimum salary you could pay someone and not have to pay them overtime. Anyway, the open bedroom in the attic was being held for a student returning from a year as a missionary in Honduras. I did not know him when he moved in, but now we all know him as the Democratic Candidate for Vice President, Tim Kaine.

Tim and I lived together that year and the following summer in Washington, DC. A wise man once told me that he and his roommate had an understanding: “As soon as one of us dies, the other will go out and get hit by a bus, because some secrets have to remain buried…” I feel the opposite. Eventually the media will find me, so I figured I’ll go ahead and offer a full disclosure of what I know about Tim. Here goes:

He does not like to clean the bathroom.

The four of us shared one bathroom. As you can imagine, the shower was well used and rarely cleaned. I think the shower curtain had so much caked-on grime that it cracked. We once tried oven cleaner on the porcelain tub. I do not recommend that.

He makes a mean bowl of ramen.

With me averaging under $3 per hour and the three of them paying law school tuition, the kitchen was stocked with countless cellophane packages of ramen. I do recall Tim was creative at finding a fresh root vegetable to compliment the noodles.

Speaking of food…He knows his BBQ.

Tim famously (at least to his roommates) returned from Christmas break with four unlabeled bottles of BBQ Sauce from his Kansas City hometown. That January, during an unscheduled snow storm, he barbequed ribs on the side walk and, amidst much jealousy from our neighbors, hosted a blind taste test (Arthur Bryant’s and Gates were victorious).

He’s as confused by romance as everyone else.

That year he met a fellow student, Anne Holton, who shared his commitment to social justice. She began spending more time at the house and bringing over cookies. Tim was the last to understand where their relationship was heading. We would have told him earlier but we didn’t want Anne to stop baking.

His commitment to social justice runs deep.

To celebrate one of our close friends turning 40, the former housemates spent a week cycling 500 miles across Iowa (google RAGBRAI). With lots of time to shoot the breeze, one evening we fell into a thoughtful conversation about regrets. Tim spoke of a situation, 15 years earlier, when he failed to get an execution commuted for a death row inmate he was aiding. Tim does not take responsibility lightly.

Service is a simple way to define Tim and Anne.

Whether a civil rights attorney for 17 years or having held 5 different elected offices over 22 years, Tim and Anne have always chosen to serve others. I can think of many forks in the road during my career where I have chosen money or security or prestige, but they have not. They endured many lean years where public servant salaries left them worried if they would be able to pay for their 3 children to attend college, but they had faith in their lives of service. When my oldest son was old enough to travel alone on an airplane, I bought him a ticket to spend 2 weeks in Richmond, living with the Kaine Family. They are the role models I choose for my children.

He has no fashion sense.

The human genome project would waste its time looking for vanity genes (jeans?) in Tim’s DNA. He simply does not judge himself or anyone on their appearance. Thank goodness some campaign official had him destroy his do-rag collection.

His nature is to find common ground.

It’s true that he is happiest when sleeping outdoors on the ground, but I am making a pragmatic political observation here. Tim grew up in a Republican Home. He married the daughter of a Republican Governor. He moved to a Red State. As roommates at 23, we’d stay up late discussing difficult divisive topics like the death penalty, abortion, religion and gun control. To this day, I have never met anyone, whether I agree or disagree, with whom a challenging conversation gives me as much insight into my opinion as well as an appreciation for the opposing opinion. His bipartisan talent is unique. In 2014 when he went to register his PAC, there were already 7000 chosen names, but he found his first choice “Common Ground” was available.

When friends call, he answers.

Unfortunately, I scheduled my small 1988 wedding in Los Angeles, on the same weekend as his wife’s annual Holton Family Reunion in Virginia, but Tim made time, leaving Virginia for 24 hours, spending 2/3rds of it on airplanes so he could be there. It shouldn’t surprise me that in the winter of 2005, when I lost my job and needed career advice, Tim invited me to Richmond to spend time with him. What did surprise me is that we spent a lot of time together even though he had a lot going on. He had just been elected Governor, was overseeing his administration’s transition and preparing to give the Democratic response to the President’s State of the Union Address.

When you call, he will answer.

Thirty-five years ago a new roommate moved into the attic bedroom. We were both single and trying to figure out our future. My parents called and asked what I thought of him. Long distance calls were expensive, so my answer was short and to the point. Thirty-five years later we are both married, fathers of three adult children and experienced in our chosen fields. My parents still call to ask questions about Tim. Voice plans now allow for unlimited talk, but my brief answer has never changed: “He’s the best person I have ever met.”

  • Elaine Owens

    If ever there was a man who should one day be president of the United States, it’s Tim Kaine. When Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, I got instant proof of her good judgment. She said she wanted a running mate who could immediately step into the Oval Office if something happened. She got what she was looking for. His quick command of foreign affairs in the Senate was impressive. And, then there’s his secret weapon – Ann Holton.