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Reprinted from


August 16, 2001



Dye Foundation Keeps Memories of Aide Alive


Parents of Hill Staffer Who Died at 27 Pay Tribute to Him by Helping to Give Students Washington Experience


By Amy Keller

From the painting that hangs in his Arkansas home to the musical he wrote about a “hardheaded Texan” who loves politics and dies too young, Dennis Dye relies on art to work through his grief and remember his son, Jeffrey.

And through the art of giving, Dye and his wife, Janell, are making sure that others remember Jeffrey, too.

Several years ago the couple formed the Jeffrey J. Dye Leadership Foundation in honor of their only son, who passed away suddenly in 1997 at the age of 27. Dye, who suffered from epilepsy, is described by his family as a passionate Texan with an unquenchable thirst for politics and an up-and-coming star behind the scenes in Democratic politics.

With their non-profit foundation, the Dyes have been helping to send students with a love for politics to Washington to get their own taste of life inside the Beltway. Through the foundation they provide travel and living expenses for students spending their junior year of college as Congressional interns in Washington, D.C.

As Dye explains it, “We realized that helping other youngsters get into the political fray” was the best way to honor Jeff’s memory.  So the couple established the foundation, raised some money and set out to select students they felt were “smart enough and obsessive enough” to live up to Jeff’s example.

Who was Jeffrey J. Dye?

“He wanted to be like James Carville. He liked doing the thinking and the maneuvering and strategizing and arguing,”  Dye reminisced in a recent interview.  “His grandma would ask him if he would like to be president and [he] said, ‘No, I’m the guy who makes the president.’”

Dye launched his career in politics while attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he also worked in the state capitol in the lieutenant governor’s office and was the statewide volunteer coordinator in Texas for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

In 1993 he moved to Washington, where he worked in the Senate, with Democratic fundraising firms and on a number of campaigns. By 1997 he was named the youngest executive director in the history of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Clearly, Jeffrey Dye made a distinct impression on all those whose lives he touched.

“Never was there an operative so constitutionally fitted for the rock and roll of modern, media-age politics as he,” Sen. Daniel Akaka D-Hawaii) said in a floor tribute to his former staffer after his death in 1997.

“Jeff loved the ups-and-downs of elections, the eat-or-be-eaten nature of the democratic process, whether in the form of a presidential campaign or a race for the local school board,” Akaka continued. “He had a Texas-sized appetite where these things applied.”

Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas), who came to know Dye when he worked on his first House campaign, described him as a “crack researcher, a spectacular fundraiser and a cunning political strategist.”

Because of Jeffrey’s successes in both Texas and Tennessee, his parents have established the ‘Washington Experience” program to function in conjunction with both the University of Texas and Middle Tennessee State University .

Since 1998, 15 students have benefited from the Jeffrey J. Dye Leadership Foundation’s ‘Washington Experience” program, and two more students are slated to go through the program this fall.  The students selected by the foundation arrange internship experiences in Washington through either American University or The Washington Center for Intern- ships and Academic Seminars.

In addition to providing money to students to help them realize their political ambitions, the foundation also assigns each student a “personal mentor” to provide one-on-one advice on everything from protocol on the Hill to how to network and make it in the capital.

“It’s wonderful,” remarked Joanne Rising, a senior legislative assistant for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) who serves on the board of directors of the JJDLF and also fills the role of mentor coordinator for the organization.

‘These kids are so impressive and so smart. It’s a great program,” remarked Rising, who was a close friend of Jeffrey’s and has watched more than a dozen students travel to Washington and complete the program.

Emma Canno, a University of Texas honors student who majored in government and philosophy who came to Washington in 1998, spent her semester in American University’s justice program and did her internship at Ayuda Legal Aid.  During this time she be came involved in immigration issues and was able to capitalize on her bilingual talents.

In 1999, Middle Tennessee State University student Tiffany Dale was picked by the JJDLF to come to Washington, where she interned on the staff of Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). During her stint with the lawmaker, she attended hearings and was instrumen- tal in drafting several legislative memos to the Senator. Thompson’s chief of staff singled her out as being “extremely focused and very ambitious.”

Also in 1999, Tracy Walraven, a political science major from Middle Tennessee State University, interned in the office of Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).Upon graduation she was hired by Gordon and ended up working for him full time for about three years.

She recently left the Hill to become the grassroots and advocacy manager for the American Nursery and Landscape Association.

‘This was an awesome opportunity and experience,” Walraven enthused. “Without the program, I would never have gotten the opportunity and never would be here. Opportunities are just not lying around in the middle of Tennessee , believe it or not.

‘This completely opened that door and is continuing to open more doors for students in my situation,” she added.

Rising cannot think of a better way to keep Jeffrey Dye’s memory alive.

“It’s the best way I know to show people the good side of politics,” she said.   “He was the good side of politics.”