Celebrating with the Senator

Published 8:37 pm Saturday, March 10, 2012

Former U.S. Senator John Warner, center, stands with Diane and Robert Nelms of Suffolk during the senator’s retirement party in Washington, D.C., in 2008. The Nelms celebrated with Warner again last weekend at Mount Vernon, as he marked his 85th birthday.

Former State Delegate Robert Nelms and his wife Diane spent the weekend in northern Virginia to celebrate the 85th birthday of former U.S. Sen. John W. Warner.

The special event was held at Mount Vernon, home of America’s first president, George Washington, and it was attended by nearly 100 of Senator Warner’s close friends.

“Diane and I enjoyed being with dear old friends to celebrate the 85th birthday of a distinguished Virginian and a great American who also happens to be our former boss and very dear friend,” Robert Nelms said. “The boss looks great. His flashy gray hair and his brilliant smile have not changed a bit.”

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The event started with a private tour of the grounds and mansion by docent and manager of guest relations John Marshall, followed by a social and cocktail hour. Current U.S. Sen. Mark Warner spoke warmly of his once-time opponent.

“Mark discussed the many lessons the senior Warner had taught him in their head-to-head campaign in 1996, won by John Warner,” Nelms recalled. “It is clear that the two men admire one another and have a very real and congenial friendship.”

The celebration ended with dinner, a roast of the senator, and closing remarks by the honored guest.

Warner spoke about his many years of service to the nation, including his time as Secretary of the Navy, Chairman of the United States Bicentennial, and 30 years as a U.S. senator from Virginia.

“John Warner served Virginia with great passion,” Nelms said. “There was never a battle that he was not willing to take on if it would benefit Virginia and this great nation.”

But Nelms’ connection to Sen. John Warner is also a personal one.

“He also played a significant role in the lives of Diane and myself, in that she and I met on his staff,” Robert Nelms said. “I became his tennis partner in those years working with Senator Warner. We spent a great deal of time together, just as he continued to do with so many other staffers who learned to love him, just as Diane and I do today.”

“The first time I ever saw Diane was in the front office of Sen. John Warner,” Robert Nelms recalled. “She was his receptionist, and I had arrived for a job interview. Can you imagine how happy I was to have gotten the job as a legislative correspondent, and on the day I began working, discovered that Diane had been promoted to the legislative office and placed at the desk next to mine?

The Nelmses were married almost two years later, and will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this May. They live in the Riverview neighborhood of Suffolk.

Robert Nelms would take the experience he gained while working for John Warner and apply it to a brief political career of his own. He served as a Republican member of the House of Delegates, representing the 76th District, from 1992 to 1997.