Donald Joseph Senese, 62, a former staff member of the Republican National Committee and more recently a history teacher at the Islamic Saudi Academy, died of a heart attack Oct. 16 while driving in Fairfax County.
Dr. Senese, who was born in Chicago, received a bachelor's degree in history from Loyola University in Chicago in 1964. He received a master's degree in 1967 and a doctorate in 1969, both in history, from the University of South Carolina. He also attended Sophia University in Tokyo and National Chengchi University in Taipei for postgraduate work.
From 1969 to 1972, he was an associate professor of history at Radford College. In 1973, he became a legislative assistant for Sen. William Scott (R-Va.) after the senator read an article by Dr. Senese.
Dr. Senese became legislative director for Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.) from 1973 to 1976 and was a senior research associate of the House Republican Study Committee from 1976 to 1981.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him assistant secretary for educational research and improvement in the Department of Education, under Education Secretary Terrell H. Bell. He left when Bell was replaced by William Bennett. He also founded Senese Education Enterprises in 1981 and served as its president until 1996.
He served on the staff of the Republican National Committee from 1987 to 1989, working on opposition research, an assignment that made him an expert on the life and career of former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis. He was the committee's director of opposition research in 1995 and 1996.
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed him deputy assistant secretary to the assistant secretary of the Office of Territorial and International Affairs at the Department of Interior. He served until 1993.
From 1997 to 2002, he was vice president and director of research for the Rosslyn-based 60-Plus Association, a senior citizens advocacy group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to AARP. He also taught a course on congressional procedures at the Department of Agriculture Graduate School from 1995 to 2003 and began teaching this fall at the Alexandria-based Islamic Saudi Academy, a K-12 college-prep school.
Dr. Senese's passion was politics. He worked on the campaigns of former presidents Reagan and Bush and President Bush, as well as of former Virginia Republican governors John N. Dalton, George Allen and James S. Gilmore III. He also was issues adviser for an unsuccessful Senate campaign by Republican Oliver L. North in Virginia in 1994.
He wrote several books, including "Indexing the Inflationary Impact of Taxes" (1978), "Modernizing the Chinese Dragon" (1980) and "Asianomics: Challenge and Change in Northeast Asia" (1981). China and the politics of the Far East and American political history were two of his many scholarly interests.
"He loved learning, and he loved trivia -- about movies, music, politics," said his wife, Linda Wall Senese of Alexandria. "He was enthralled with facts about the presidency."
She said he took the job at Islamic academy this fall primarily because he wanted to learn more about Islamic culture, and he taught advanced placement history there. Since the syllabus required him to get through the whole arc of American history in one school year, he had to be careful not to share too much of his knowledge of, and fascination with, obscure tidbits.
"He loved his students," his wife said. "He said he was learning as much from them as they were from him."
In addition to his wife of 31 years, survivors include a daughter, Denise Nicole Senese of Fairfax; and three sisters and three brothers.