Bob McDonald VA Portrait Unveiling

We walked over to the VA headquarters building before 4 p.m.  Once we walked in the door, Diane and I were inundated with our former colleagues and friends.  We introduced our daughter Jenny and her husband Scott Rowland.  First it was the members of Protocol, then our photographers, then our Special Agents, and then office staff.  We were in a “green room” near the auditorium, and many came to see us.  Over time Elizabeth Horst and COL Jason Gresh, and Julie and LTC Don Haley both joined us.  Secretary Robert Wilkie also joined us and he talked with us before we went into the auditorium.  Our family went first.  Secretary Wilkie and I then followed.

“I am so humbled and honored to have a portrait with other VA Secretaries and friends.”

Matt Webb played master of ceremonies.  Ms. Michelle Terry, who works in the Center for Women Veterans, sang the National Anthem.  (Diane and I sang Christmas Carols with Michelle each year in the lobby of our building).  Reverend Marvin Mills, Associate Chaplain, National Chaplain Center, Hampton Virginia, VA gave the invocation and benediction.  Then, Secretary Robert Wilkie spoke about my biography and my tenure at the VA and was very complimentary.  Following the remarks by Secretary Wilkie, Diane and I joined him and unveiled the portrait and I was then invited to give remarks.

“I think of this portrait and this event to be a tribute to all of you who have worked to help Veterans.”

I thanked everyone for attending and especially thanked Secretary Wilkie for hosting the event and for the generous comments.  I thanked the artist, Laurel Boeck, VA employees past and present, my family, and our friends.  I spoke about being humbled to have my portrait join those whom shoulders we had the benefit to stand upon.  Past Secretaries Tony Principi, Jim Nicholson, and Sloan Gibson were present.  I also thanked Secretary Shinseki, my predecessor, who did great work at VA.

I had a collage of VA employees projected on the screen.  It was a collage I used at my last State of the VA review, which was at Georgetown University on January 10, 2017.  My point in using it was that in my portrait I see the picture of every VA employee working hard to achieve the VA vision of being the top customer service organization in the Federal government.  I called it the I CARE (our VA values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence) Collage.  I talked about the upside-down pyramid I used to describe our VA culture.  Veterans are on top.  Those who serve Veterans are next.  As Secretary I was on the bottom working hard to help those on top better serve Veterans.

I then thanked our strategic partners.  We knew that VA could not achieve the vision alone.  We needed partners.  Veteran Service Organizations, Non-governmental organizations, and more all helping the VA better care for Veterans.

I talked about the work I am doing as Chairman of RallyPoint that focuses on helping Veterans connect with the VA.  And, I talked about my work for the Partnership of Public Service, working to establish a measure of customer service for every department of the Federal government.

I closed by describing how I introduced the President at Arlington National Cemetery for Veterans Day of 2016.  In the last scene of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the aged Private Ryan kneels reverently in front of Captain Miller’s grave.  Captain Miller gave his life in combat to save Private Ryan’s.  Ryan says to Miller and all Veterans, “I’ve tried to live my life the best I could.  I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”  I’m a Veteran.  I imagine myself saying that to every Veteran.  “I hope that in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”  Thank you.

“When I look at this portrait, I see all of you working to put Veterans first.”

After the ceremony we walked over to the American Legion Headquarters on K Street Northwest for a reception hosted by the Veterans Service Organizations.  It was great to be able to interact with everyone and the VSO’s were kind to host the event.

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