It was 1933, deep depression times, when the new congressman came to town. He had sold his car to pay off his 1932 campaign debt and here he was, penniless at the Riggs National Bank, asking for a $1,000 loan.
Well, the banker said, what collateral do you have? None, said Jennings Randolph, except a job. Well, the banker said, I know you'll be here at least two years, so we'll give you the money.
Now, 52 years after his first election, the loan long since paid off, Sen. Jennings Randolph, the old man of the mountains, the last congressional link to the First Hundred Days of Roosevelt's New Deal, is going home to West Virginia.
Randolph, 82, is ending a career that by any measure would have to be termed spectacular, retiring because he thinks his time has come. In this day of blow-dried politicians, the portly senator with Victorian grace, avuncular ways and the dark homburg hat is a sort of paradoxical throwback -- somehow out of synch, yet remarkably in tune.
"It would not have been fair to the people of West Virginia to seek one more term," he said last week. "Age was an issue in my last campaign, but I out-campaigned my opponent. This time it would not have been fair.
"Besides," he said, "there are other things I must do -- writing, teaching, projects I have in mind. I am 82, but I still have a zest."
One thing he will not do, contrary to a growing trend, is resign early to give his successor a leg up in seniority in the 99th Congress. "Over the years," he said, "about 4 million people put an 'X' in front of my name. I will serve to Jan. 2, every day that I was hired to serve."
That is vintage Randolph. He ran for Congress in 1932 -- that is, more than half a century ago -- because, as he said, "I had an overriding desire to help people, to upgrade, to benefit our people. I have never said I was a senator from West Virginia. Always, I am a senator for West Virginia."
After 14 years in the House, which included close association with the president and Eleanor Roosevelt, Randolph was defeated. He worked as an airline executive until 1958, then was elected to an unexpired Senate term, and has been here ever since.
The Senate being what it is, colleagues routinely praise each other whether they mean it or not. But in the case of Randolph, sincerity rings through.
"He has always been the epitome of a senator," said Sen. Walter D. Huddleston, a fellow Democrat from neighboring Kentucky. "A great deal of dignity, extremely courteous, very forceful. When he talks about 'his' people, there is no question about how sincere he is."
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) put it another way: "When I went on his Environment and Public Works Committee, I was at the bottom of the ladder. I thought I was a pretty good legislator, but I learned to legislate under Jennings Randolph. He gave me every opportunity to be a senator."
Not that Randolph doesn't have his peculiarities. Colleagues often held their breath at committee meetings when Randolph would propose to say a few words before launching into arabesques of legendary verbiage. Newsmen grumbled cynically about Randolph's penchant for demanding order in the Senate when things got tumultuous.
In fact, the disarray that seems in recent years to have become routine on the Senate floor deeply disturbs Randolph. As a parting gesture, around midnight Thursday, the Senate voted to adopt his proposal that members be required to cast their votes from their desks.
"The people in the galleries, some of whom have traveled long distances to see their senators, see nothing but a jumbled up mess of senators milling on the floor. It is like a soccer game," Randolph said. "The Senate is not deliberative when this is going on."
By Friday, however, the new rule notwithstanding, the milling had resumed as the Senate neared adjournment. Randolph leaves with concerns about the political process and the confusion of the legislative machine.
"We really are not deliberative, although we like to call ourselves the greatest deliberative body in the world," he said. "The Senate is not the same body in procedure and voting process that it was 20, 25 years ago. There has been a legislative letdown.
"You don't discuss matters as objectively as you once did," he went on. "The sharp points of view now lead to a critical, divisive atmosphere. That is not in the tradition of what the Senate was and what it can be."
Recently elected senators, he continued, "are often single-minded on one issue."
"The Senate operates in cycles, and the mood of the country often is reflected in the Senate rather than vice versa," he said. "The people outside are demanding, and the pressure is very great, more and more each year. I'd like to see that pressure reflected with people voting in this country, which they're not doing now."
Beyond his concerns for process, Randolph worries about a day when a small minority will choose a president because the majority stayed home. As far back as 1942 he was pushing for the 18-year-old vote, which did not come for three more decades. Even with that, voter participation is off.
"The failure to vote is a national disgrace," he said. "You wonder how the high schools and colleges fail to put an emphasis on voting. The 18-year-olds are not voting, and their mothers and fathers are not doing much better.
"This worries me. If the decline continues, we will elect a president by a majority of a minority outvoting the rest of the minority," Randolph said.
Public policy and emphasis on voting will be high on the agenda at the Jennings Randolph Center for Public Service being set up at Salem College, the small, nondenominational private school his grandfather founded and from which he graduated. The family home in Salem is being moved to the college and will house the center.
Salem and the town of Elkins, where Randolph maintains a residence, seem appropriate venues for the work he intends to do.
"I have a rural background. I was born on Main Street, in fact," he said. As a boy he did all the odd jobs that small-town boys did in that era. He still remembers vividly his 1912 train trip to Washington to see Ty Cobb play baseball, still remembers attending the Democratic convention with his father that year.
Randolph's father, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, decided to name his son after his friend, William Jennings Bryan.
"Have you named this boy?" Bryan asked. "No," Randolph the elder answered. "Then why don't you give him part of my name as a good Democrat?" Bryan suggested.
Jennings Randolph, with that political inheritance, took a while to decide what he would do. He helped run the family oil business, was a newspaper reporter and was a professor at Davis and Elkins College.
Among his duties at the college was the athletic directorship. One year, after his football team defeated Navy, 2-0, he managed to get the boys into a Baltimore burlesque house free of charge as part of their celebration.
As a legislator, Randolph presented some contradictions. He often was called New Dealer or populist, yet his office doors always were open to the coal, steel and oil interests so powerful at home.
His name is imprinted on the landmark environmental and worker safety measures of the past 15 years, but he was to some degree pushed into those frays by peer pressure and political demand, observers of the era say.
People who went to work for him were cautioned never to describe a public-works project as "pork barrel" because he detested the term, even though he was a nonpareil at landing federal expenditures for West Virginia. Women employes who violated his ban on slacks had to go to great lengths to avoid being seen.
Randolph adeptly used his chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee, from 1966 to 1981, to channel water projects, roads, development grants, airports, public buildings, job programs and other federal generosities to his poor and underdeveloped state.
In the past year, by his own estimate, Randolph has dedicated or broken ground for at least 60 water treatment plants in West Virginia. When it became clear that federal funds would be cut Oct. 1, Randolph launched an all-out drive to get his communities' projects off the drawing boards ahead of the deadline.
Yet, his vision extended beyond the Mountain State. He authored the first federal airport aid act in 1946; in the 1930s, he helped create a federal program to help the blind. He is the legislative father of the popular National Air and Space Museum. He was a force in passage of the black-lung program for disabled coal miners, mine safety and occupational safety laws, programs for education and the handicapped.
He said he hoped another legacy would be one of his final legislative accomplishments, approval and financing for a new institute to study means of making peace. Randolph had promoted the idea for years; the continuing resolution adopted by Congress last week contained $4 million to get it going.
Through it all, Randolph perhaps was proudest of his familiarity with his state -- he knew the terrain top to bottom -- and its people. The only asterisk that might be added is the story, perhaps apocryphal, about Randolph and the late representative Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.).
Perkins used to drive to his Appalachian district every weekend, often dropping Randolph off in West Virginia and then picking him up on the return. One day, a West Virginia trooper curbed the speeding Perkins.
"Don't say anything, Carl," Randolph is supposed to have said. "I'll handle this."
As Randolph began talking, the trooper looked into the car. "Why, Congressman Perkins," he said. "I didn't realize it was you. Go right on through."