Heinz Staff: ‘We Had A Hell Of A Run’ With AM-Heinz-Crash, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Suddenly, Sen. John Heinz’s staff didn’t belong to anyone.
Some staff members cried softly Friday as they were told by the office manager the day after the Pennsylvania Republican’s death: ″We had a hell of a run.″
Heinz, 52 and in his third term, was killed Thursday when his Philadelphia- bound plane collided with a helicopter. Six other people were killed, including two schoolchildren on the ground.
Cliff Shannon, Heinz’s administrative assistant, called two-dozen staff members into a conference room Friday morning to discuss, essentially, what to do for the next two months.
With Heinz gone, Shannon was the highest-ranking official in the office - an odd feeling for many. One staffer likened working for a senator to being a samurai warrior in feudal Japan. Samurais were known for their intense loyalty.
Bill Reinsch, the chief legislative assistant, said he was with Heinz ″since the day he came to the Senate 14 years ago,″ as were scheduler Jeanne Alexander and secretary Dolores Senanis. Legislative director Richard Bryers worked in the office 10 years.
Reinsch said he would start thinking about a job after the memorial service on April 12.
John Stait, an assistant to the Senate chaplain, opened the staff meeting by urging those in attendance not to bottle up their grief. ″The survivors seem to be those who look at it squarely,″ he said.
The staffers, most in their 20s and 30s, were ″annihilated″ by Heinz’s death, Stait said in an interview. Many barely slept Thursday night.
″They’re just in so much shock and grief and pain. I just talked to them about the need to grieve and how we set up barriers if we don’t allow ourselves to hurt,″ he said.
Stait invited them to join a weekly support group at the chaplain’s office. Normally, the group focuses on significant, but less tragic, events - for example, losing an election.
Staffers can remain on the Heinz payroll for 60 days. Several said it was too soon to think about trying to catch on with an interim successor expected to be appointed by Gov. Robert Casey. A November election will determine who completes the three years in Heinz’s term after that.
Shannon told staff members they had a responsibility in the next few weeks to the Heinz family and Pennsylvania constituents. ″We had a hell of a run. Let’s go out with the same kind of class,″ he said.
Shannon did not know what his next job would be. His only plan, he told a reporter, was ″to hang around and talk with each of them (staff members) about what they are going to do.″