I have never met anyone so humble and unassuming who commands such awe and respect as Dick Riley, the legendary US Secretary of Education during the Clinton-Gore Administration and former governor of South Carolina. What is that intangible quality that makes people laugh, listen, cry, follow, and fall on their swords all at the same time? How is it that in the very rough and tumble politics of DC that someone can inspire such admiration from all sides while still clearly advancing a bold policy agenda? How does he stay so calm and polite all of the time?
The Secretary celebrated his 80th birthday the other night in Washington on the roof top terrace of his law firm over looking the Capitol. What a splendid evening it was to celebrate. Career and political staff from his days at the Department of Education swarmed around the leader once more to sing his praises and the famous Riley song.
We all had a great time remembering way back when (indeed it all started almost 21 years ago) when education policy was at the top of the domestic agenda and the country was getting acquainted with a new bi-partisan education policy strategy called standards-based reform. We also recalled that partisan politics and paralyzing gridlock were the name of the game back then too. Indeed government was shutdown twice in a month during our time. But through it all we kept our focus, maintained our dignity and held our heads high because of the leader who guided the way. What a pleasure and privilege to serve with this education hero by any measure. Happy birthday, Mr. Secretary!