Those who remember Rick Jauert know that he could never be silent.
In his final days in a nursing home in his hometown of Luverne, Minn., the man who had worked for seven Democratic members of Congress from Minnesota was rigged to a microphone that allowed his friends to hear his whispers.
“His political opinions had not been diminished,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, one of four current and former House members who eulogized Jauert on Saturday.
Jauert, who died this month at 59 from a rare neurological disorder, was remembered as a veteran aide with a generous heart dedicated to life’s underdogs.
Although he grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, his destiny was in Washington politics. “Once he got out to Washington, he was going to stay there,” said Lowell Jauert, a cousin.
Yet Rick Jauert returned to Minnesota for a final year after a long career on Capitol Hill, where he was known for his passion for the poor, the downtrodden and just about anybody who came visiting from Minnesota.
“If you had a kid who wanted to come to D.C. and do an internship, had family or friends who were coming to town and wanted a tour of the city, talk to Rick,” recalled Donna Green, a longtime friend and Capitol Hill aide. “He was so generous with this time.”
Jauert attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, and graduated with honors — the first of his family to go to college. He got a taste for politics by getting involved in student government.
In 1976, Jauert moved to Washington and worked as an intern in Rep. Rick Nolan’s congressional office. It was the first of many jobs with members of Congress, including Reps. Bruce Vento, David Minge, Martin Sabo, Gerry Sikorski, McCollum and Keith Ellison.
Nolan, Sikorski, McCollum and Ellison spoke at his funeral Saturday. “Rick Jauert truly made a difference,” Nolan said. “Our world is a better place for every day he spent here.”
Ellison, Jauert’s final boss, also issued a statement last week praising him.
“Rick’s knowledge of Minnesota politics was unmatched,” Ellison wrote. “Every square inch of Rick’s home on Capitol Hill was filled with Minnesota political memorabilia, and Rick remembered every campaign and personality.”
As communications director, Jauert dealt with the international media frenzy over Ellison’s election as the first Muslim in Congress, yet gave priority to the Minnesota press corps at his swearing-in.
After his diagnosis of multiple system atrophy, Jauert began having difficulty walking. Lowell Jauert and his wife, Diane, brought him back to Luverne in the spring of 2012.
“He missed D.C.,” said Katie Jauert, Lowell’s daughter. “But the community did really embrace him. He had so many visitors all of the time. Everybody was so proud of him.”
Jauert made another trip to Washington — in January, to witness the inauguration of Nolan, re-elected to Congress three decades after he left it.
“He really enjoyed getting out there, one more time,” Lowell Jauert said.
Back in Minnesota, Jauert stayed plugged in until the end, recalled Washington lobbyist Dennis McGrann, who had worked with him in Sikorski’s office. When Jauert discovered that his nursing home carried only Fox News and CNN, he got the management to set up a dish to provide MSNBC as well.
For McGrann and others, Jauert will always be remembered for the Martin Luther King sign-off on his e-mails: “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”