Senate honors legendary Capitol Hill staffer Bertie Bowman

Senate honors legendary Capitol Hill staffer

Last Updated Jul 18, 2019 9:05 AM EDT

Decades into his storied career, Bertie Bowman is finally getting his due. 

Bowman, who working on Capitol Hill for nearly three-quarters of a century, was only 13 years old when he ran away from home in South Carolina and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1944. Bowman decided to go to D.C. after meeting South Carolina Sen. Burnet Maybank near his hometown. 

"Before he can get in his car, I was pulling on his coattail, 'If I come to Washington, can I stop by and see you?' He said 'Yes,'" Bowman said in an interview with CBS News Chief Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

When he arrived in Washington, Bowman found Maybank's office on Capitol Hill. The senator hired him to sweep the Capitol steps, and paid him $2 a week out of his own pocket. Bowman went on to do several other jobs on Capitol Hill, including working as a janitor, a cook and a shoe-shiner for U.S. senators like Lyndon Johnson. 

"Lyndon Johnson used to love to get dressy. 'Bertie, how's my boots there? You got 'em looking good? Can I see my face?' I said, 'Here you are, Senator. You can see your face better than I can.' I used to say that to him," he recalled. 

Bowman eventually made it to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he served as a clerk and then as the hearing coordinator. He is known on Capitol Hill for giving newly-elected senators advice. 

He told Cordes, "Oh I tell em,' you know, 'You got to kind of — when you walk out your door, look left or right and say, 'Hello, how are you this morning?'"

Bowman has made a lasting impression, including on Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. 

"He made us senators look good," Hagel told Cordes.

"Yeah, that's true," Kaine agreed. 

Bowman even made a lasting impression on Bill Clinton. The future president worked for Bowman when, while still a student at Georgetown University, he got a job as a messenger for the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Bowman, said Clinton, was "exactly the kind of person you'd want to take you under his wing, if you're a 20-year-old student just working your first job in Washington." 

This May, the United States Senate Federal Credit Union held a ceremony honoring Bowman where it officially named its new headquarters after him. 

"And I feel so honored, I'm just the happiest guy in the world," Bowman told Cordes.

Even though Bowman is now 88 years old, he has no plans to retire. Bowman, who still lives in Washington D.C., told CBS News that he would never consider moving to the suburbs in Maryland or Virginia, as he would not want any senator to suspect him of favoritism.