"I grew up in a small town in Southern Missouri. Sometime during the early years of high school, I decided that foreign service was what I wanted to do. I didn't know much about it and there was no Internet then so I asked my Mom what to do. She said, 'Well, write your Senator.' So, I wrote to Senator Stuart Symington, the senior Senator of Missouri. He was a very influential and powerful man and was in the Senate for ages. I received a very nice letter back answering my questions and saying that he was interested in people who wanted to serve their country. He told me to 'stay in touch.' Well, as a young, innocent, poor boy off the farm, I took that very literally. During high school and through undergraduate, I sent a letter once or twice a year to the Senator telling him what was happening in my life. Each time, I got a very nice response and answers to my questions.
"As I was looking at graduate schools, I was very interested in George Washington University. I wrote to the Senator asking for a letter of recommendation for financial support. I received a nice letter back saying, 'Dear Steve, I won't be able to do that, but if you do get accepted, I would be glad to give you a job on my staff.' I got accepted and became a doorman in the Senate gallery. It was a patronage job.
"Arriving in DC in January 1967 was very dramatic for me. It took me two days on a Greyhound bus to get here. I got off at the old bus station on New York Avenue with a guitar in one hand and a suitcase in the other. It was 5 a.m. and the Senator's office expected me at work that day. I walked over to Pennsylvania Avenue and turned left and there was the Capitol. I was just stunned. I thought, I have now made it in the world. As I walked down the street, I was thinking that life couldn't get any better than this!
"When I got to the Senator's office in the old S.O.B., the old Senate Office Building, it was still closed as it was still 6:30 or 7 a.m. I sat outside of his door on my suitcase and pulled out my guitar and started playing, waiting for someone to come. The first person to show up and see my playing was his legislative assistant. She said, 'Can I help you?' I told her that I was Steve McDonald reporting for my first day of work. She took me to the Senator's bathroom to wash up and shave. I met the Senator later that morning. I found out several months later that the Senator's personal aide, not the Senator, had been the one to see and respond to my letters. She probably signed the letters for the Senator, too. She tracked my progress over the years and told the Senator to hire me.
"At that time, I was amazed by the caliber of Senators, especially the great Republicans: Everett Dirksen, Clinton Anderson, Margaret Chase Smith, and Mark Hatfield. Even though I was working for a Democrat, I really said to myself that these are people of the nation and not all about this partisan nonsense like we have today. In fact, I ended up registering as an Independent, which didn't make my office very happy. But, I was so impressed by both the great Democrats and Republicans of the time. I used to think that our nation was in such good hands, a feeling I don't have anymore. But, it is from those early experiences where I draw my optimism in our nation and its people."