BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., stressed the importance of public service as he reflected on his life and career during a fireside chat at West Virginia Wesleyan College Tuesday.
Rockefeller was accompanied on stage by longtime ABC News anchor Ted Koppel. Koppel facilitated the conversation, interjecting from time to time with questions and anecdotes.
But the focus Tuesday was on Rockefeller. The Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts was packed with people eager to hear the senator’s thoughts on public policy and the value of helping others.
Rockefeller reflected on his younger days when he traveled to places like Japan and China. These experiences influenced his decision to break away from the rest of the Rockefeller family and find his own path, he said, a path that led him to West Virginia.
“I didn’t want to live in New York City. I didn’t want to be a financier,” Rockefeller recalled. “I wanted to be involved with people, as I was in Japan, as I was in the Philippines. And I wanted them to be here in the United States.”
He referred to his time working with the Volunteers in Service to America, where he lived in Emmons and encountered the hardships endured by those that lived there.
“In 156 families I think there was one person who had a job. Nobody had health care, nobody had anything,” Rockefeller recalled. “It was sort of Emmons against the world, and it incurred in me a kind of anger, a rage, because I really liked those kids. I liked those parents, and yet they were being shuttered aside by the system.”
This formative experience living in Emmons helped inspire Rockefeller to enter into a life of public service, he said.
“I wanted something that was almost impossible to do … I wanted to give the people in Emmons — and later on, at a larger scale the people in West Virginia and even the country — a sense that life can be better,” Rockefeller said. “That’s why I’m here is to proselytize briefly … on the value of public service.”
Koppel noted that the culture in the 1960s, when the Peace Corps was first established, emphasized public service more than today.
“This notion of public service was a hot item,” Koppel said. “It’s not today.”
“The reason is we can’t move forward as a country until we coalesce on certain principles,” Rockefeller replied. “There’s this thing going around Washington now that you can’t spend money.”
Koppel and Rockefeller both touched on the current state of affairs on Capitol Hill…