WASHINGTON — Jason Lindsay is one of the beautiful people.
He earned that title a month or so back from a D.C.-based political newspaper, The Hill and its web equivalent thehill.com, whose staff selected him and 49 other Capitol folks to be on their most beautiful list. But it wasn’t just his dapper appearance — pink power tie, crisp white shirt, close-cropped and styled hair and warm, somewhat mysterious smile — that earned him the title. It was also his southern charm, learned, he’ll tell you, from his Sampson County roots.
Lindsay, the paper noted, always responds to questions with a yes ma’am or no sir, flavored with that signature southern drawl and welcoming smile and twinkle in his eye. He’s also quick to open a door for someone, never thinking twice about what, Lindsay says, just comes naturally to him, but is somehow an oddity in the fast-paced life on Capitol Hill.
A legislative correspondent for Sen. Kay Hagan, Lindsay wears the accolade, which also came with the title “Mr. Manners,” somewhat uncomfortably, pleased on the one hand, embarrassed on the other.
He gets pleasure from the title because he’s worked hard to get in shape, drop a total 65 unwanted pounds and focus more on health and wellness, and he sees the award as a testament to his determination. The embarrassment comes because the 29-year-old Lindsay remains as humble as he was when a Union High School student, still a bit shy even beneath the neatly pressed suit and quick wit that has fitted him quite nicely in his job with the senator.
“It was kind of shocking, really,” Lindsay said about the honor during a recent telephone interview from his D.C. office. “I was surprised, humbled … it’s really hard to say because in so many ways, it’s just hard to believe.
“But, I was pleased, too, because it allowed me to focus on some goals I’d achieved. Losing 65 pounds was a big deal for me, so it just goes to show if you take good care of yourself, there are rewards.”
The accolade focuses, too, on Lindsay’s genteel demeanor, hence the Mr. Manners moniker. “They said I was a southern gentleman, you know, opening doors for people, telling them good morning, all stuff I was raised to do. Here, in this city that many think of as rude and too busy, they saw that as a big deal.”
But Lindsay points to those traits as manners instilled in him by his mother, Judy.
“My mama taught me a long time ago to say yes sir and yes ma’am, to open doors for people, to respect my elders. I suppose they stood out a little more up here. They saw it as refreshing.”
It’s a sentiment that pleases Lindsay, mostly because it’s a reflection on his upbringing and the parents he loved dearly.
Both Judy and Keith Lindsay have died in the last decade, and Lindsay considered the Capitol accolade more a testament to the two most important people in his life than to himself.
“That’s the biggest reason this makes me happy,” Lindsay attests, “because it would have pleased them.”
Lindsay, a nephew of Sampson’s Piggly Wiggly Lindsays, Jesse and Elmon, became one of the 50 beautiful people after being among a couple hundred nominated. From the nominees, 80 were tapped to be photographed and culled into the top 50.
The first qualification was a must — to work on the Hill in some capacity, be it legislator, lobbyist, congressional assistant. He passed that one. Then he and 79 others were chosen for the next step — a photography session in the Capitol. The newspaper’s editors then narrowed the 80 down to 50.
In addition to Lindsay, two others from North Carolina, one who works for Congressman G.K. Butterfield, the other for Congressman David Price, received the accolade, yet another testament to how big a deal the honor is, even if Lindsay won’t admit it.
He even got a mention in the “Under the Dome” political column in the News & Observer.
“It’s a nice thing,” Lindsay said, “but I haven’t quite figured out how to handle it.”
But he’s certainly figured out how to handle his job with Hagan, one he cherishes as much as he respects the senator he calls his boss.
“She’s a wonderful person, very dedicated to the people of North Carolina,” Lindsay said, admiration obvious in his voice.
As a legislative correspondent, Lindsay finds himself dealing with constituents who come by the office for meetings and responding to what he acknowledges is a very large amount of mail.
He juggles returning phone calls, writing letters and sending emails, mainly dealing with health care and aging issues.
“Whenever anyone contacts Sen. Hagan’s office about those issues, I’m the primary point of contact.”
Because Hagan is inundated with thousands of letters every month, she cannot respond to them all personally. That’s where Lindsay comes in, though he’s quick to point out that while the senator doesn’t write a personal response to each letter, she is involved in the entire process.
“She takes a look at the responses to those letters before they go out. She wants to know our constituents’ concerns and she wants them to know we are reacting to those concerns.”
From his office in the Dirksen Senate office building next door to the Capitol, Lindsay estimates that he opens thousands of letters and responds to them during any given month.
He sees it not as just a job, but rather a public service.
“Service is important to me. It’s one of the reason I was thrilled to get the job with Sen. Hagan, because I know how important it is to her to serve the people of North Carolina.
“This is what I’m happiest doing,” Lindsay attests about his duties with the senator, explaining again that he sees his job as one geared toward service to North Carolinians.
Service has been a path Lindsay has traveled for many years, starting way back in high school when he worked for the county’s volunteer rescue squad and the local newspaper.
“Every since my high school days, I’ve had a huge passion for public service, you know, giving back. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I worked in private industry for a while, but the passion isn’t the same.”
It’s that passion for service that propelled Lindsay into the military.
“I went to UNC-Greensboro for two years, and while I was a freshman, I joined the Army Reserves. It was the service thing. I just have this real need to serve.”
And serve he did. In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq, where he worked in transportation, moving equipment and food throughout Kuwait and Iraq.
He was reassigned to Ft. Bragg when his mother took a turn for the worse. The dutiful son returned to North Carolina so he could be with his mother during her last months.
“It was the very least I could do for someone who’d always done so much for me,” a solemn Lindsay attested.
His passion for service also, years earlier, led him into politics, another area he’d had an interest in since high school, when he worked as a student intern for The Sampson Independent.
“I always enjoyed the interviews I did with people like Sen. Charlie Albertson. It really got my interest in politics going, then, in 2000, I went to a debate between George Bush and Al Gore at Wake Forest University. I was intrigued and I wanted to be a part of the political system.”
He was so compelled that Lindsay changed his major to political science. He graduated with that degree from N.C. State University. Along his educational path, he worked on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, got a job in Congressman Brad Miller’s office, where he had previously interned, and got accepted into the Johns Hopkins University graduate school program.
He worked two years at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and, last summer, he interned in Hagan’s office.
“At the end of the internship, they brought me on board,” he attests, pride creeping into his voice.
“I’ve been working in politics since 2004; I find it very rewarding,” he said, professing that his job came after traveling a long, winding road.
But he’s pleased with where he is, partly because of the job he loves and partly because of his deep admiration for the senator.
“I think a huge thing, why I like working for Sen. Hagan, is her common sense approach to things. People have seen the partisan gridlock, but they don’t see the other side, people like the senator. She’s very bipartisan and very moderate. Her main focus is on what’s right for the people of North Carolina, and not necessarily in a partisan way.”
While many Americans see Washington as a cesspool of corruption and partisanship, Lindsay sees it as exciting, the hub of democracy.
“In Washington, I think there are more lawmakers who try to find a way to meet in the middle, but that’s not always what you see.
“Yet I see a different side and it’s because of Sen. Hagan. She works to achieve compromise solutions in a bipartisan way. That’s what the American people want; that’s what people in North Carolina want and that’s what Sen. Hagan works for.
“It’s why I support her, and it’s why I’m here. It’s what service is all about.”
For one of the beautiful people, Lindsay’s answer accentuates the accolade he has received.
It’s like his mother always told him, the beauty starts in the heart and soul of who you are.