By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Losing a public servant and a friend

Ed McGaffigan, the longest-serving commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (appointed originally by President Clinton, reappointed by President Bush), died last week at age 58 of the cancer he had been fighting for a number of years. I am sad.

Ed was an East Boston kid who was the son of an Irish immigrant blue-collar worker. We were friends as undergraduate classmates at Harvard (class of 1970), where we both gravitated to liberal-but-not-left-radical politics. Ed was the first member of his family ever to attend college. He was, even then, what he continued to be until his death -- modest, helpful, caring and smart.

Amazingly, Ed and I worked together 25 years later on procurement reform, when I was in the government working for President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and Ed was a senior staffer for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who was on the Senate Armed Services Committee and had an interest in rationalizing the procurement system. Even more amazingly, a third person I worked with was Ed's Senate colleague, Andy Effron, a senior staffer for former Sen. Sam Nunn, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- and also a friend from Harvard! (We were in the same freshman dorm.)

Ed devoted his entire career to public service -- none of the popular in-and-out stuff for him. After graduating from Harvard, he got a Master's degree in physics at CalTech, then a Master's degree in public policy from the Kennedy School in 1976 (two years before I joined the faculty). Over the years, he worked for the State Department, the White House, Sen. Bingaman and the NRC.

For at least the past year, Ed knew he was dying. His wife had died, also of cancer in 2000, and his kids were going to be left parentless. He continued to work at the NRC, however, until literally a few weeks before his death. I went to visit him at his office a few months ago, and what he mainly wanted to talk about was the challenges and issues facing the NRC. And also just a few weeks ago, when our family was trying to help a friend with a project involving New Mexico, Ed volunteered to see if Sen. Bingaman's office could help.

Ed belonged to what may be called the greatest generation of public service, those inspired by President Kennedy to serve their country. We have all lost him much too soon.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Sep 19, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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