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An interview with Rob Wittman

Metaphorically Speaking

by Amy Rose Dobson

First District Congressman Rob Wittman.

First District Congressman Rob Wittman of Westmoreland County is just like us. While he might spend his weekdays working in the hallowed halls of our nation’s capital, he finds life hasn’t changed too much at home. He still loves the water, his dogs, and battles household maintenance with the best of them. Here he talks about working hard and having fun, sometimes all at the same time.

Let’s start at the beginning with your childhood. Is there something that the taste or smell of takes you right back to your youth, similar to those French cookies made famous by Proust?

Rep. Wittman: Whenever I am around the smell of steamed crabs it brings me back to the memories of when I used to go crabbing when I was a youngster. We used to take our chicken necks and our dip nets and go out and dip up a bushel of crabs. I also had a wooden skiff that I used to pole around and I would get up on the bow of that boat with a crab net and get crabs out of the eel grass. That’s really my passion. Both catching crabs and eating them!

Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying that once a person has lost their reverence for something it is time to move on. Has there been something in your life that looked good from the outside, but you knew it was time to let it go?

Rep. Wittman: I have five dogs and I’m very much a believer that the owner should be the trainer. My second dog, a lab, I have tried and tried to train to hunt and retrieve. The more I tried, the tougher it got. I stayed on it, and stayed on it and finally I said, “You know something, I think that Katie is just going to be a pet.” Great dog, but she just wasn’t cut out to be a hunter. I even took her to a professional trainer and after about a week he smiled at me and said, “Rob, I think you’ve got it right. She’s going to make a great pet.”

The book Catch-22 is about being stuck no matter what you do. Do you have a personal Catch-22?

Rep. Wittman: You know, I do. My frustrating Catch-22 is I’ve had an issue with water coming into my basement. For the first 20 years of my home it has been dry as a bone, but for the last 10 years I have water coming in. I have done everything as far as solutions. I even put concrete skirting around the outside, thinking I had figured this thing out, and then that doesn’t do it. The next rainfall it makes its way in again. Then I extended the concrete a little more. Then I caulked the seams. The only option left is to dig up around the whole house, which I am not going to do! I’ve thought I had a solution, but there doesn’t appear to be any.

Scarlett O’Hara was famous for making a dress out of a curtain when she was in a pinch. Have you ever had to scramble and make do with something to get out of a tight spot?

Rep. Wittman: When I have a chance I like to get out and do some surf fishing. I set up my beach chair, put out my surf pole and wait for the fish to cooperate. Of course traveling in the sand with a four-wheel drive vehicle is always a challenge. Invariably, at some point you get stuck. One time, out in the Oregon Inlet in Outer Banks, my vehicle gets stuck in this barren stretch of beach. I mean stuck up to the axles. Nobody was around.  I didn’t have a shovel with me so I hiked at least a mile up into the dunes to see if I could find something. I found some old wood slabs in the dunes and used one of them as a makeshift shovel to get sand out from the bottom of the truck so the axles weren’t resting on the sand. Then I wedged the slabs in front of the rear tires so they could get some traction. After two or three tries I was able to get unstuck, instead of having to spend who knows how much time out there on the beach!

You mentioned Winston Churchill as one of the leaders you most admire. He is famous for saying “never, never, never, never give up.” Where have you applied this in your work as Congressman?

Rep. Wittman: In public office you have to have that attitude. That is what Churchill used as a leader to guide England through the Second World War. Especially when things looked terribly bleak, he had that. You know that there are going to be highs and lows. You can’t let anyone dissuade you from things that you feel strongly about.

Is there a specific issue you have applied this to?

Rep. Wittman: I’m really passionate about getting our Bay cleaned up. There are times when I look at the whole process and I am frustrated. I have to not only advocate here in Washington for efforts to clean up the Bay, but to live that way as an individual, as a homeowner and a resident on the Bay watershed. I know that takes it at a different level than what Churchill applied during WWII, but I think the same principles stand in what this means to Virginians. The quality of the Bay is a reflection of our collective efforts as members of society. We have to do all we can, and we can do more.

About the author:

Amy Rose Dobson is a freelance writer who divides her time between Urbanna and Northern Virginia in search of interesting people with a story to tell. She writes for several national publications and has found the best part of the job is hearing the story behind the one that runs in print. This gave her the idea for a column about how people apply metaphors to their lives, and thus this column was born.

posted 07.27.2009

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