He may have rallied for civil rights, resisted extremists within his own Republican Party and rescued the Chesapeake Bay, but former Maryland U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. does have one regret:He couldn't end the Civil War for Frederick.
All the clout Mr. Mathias stored up in 26 years in the House and Senate was almost -- but not quite -- enough to persuade Congress to pay back the $200,000 ransom Frederick spent in 1864 to stop Confederate Gen. Jubal Early from torching Union supplies.
Still, the liberal Republican, who carried his hometown's cause in Congress until the end, is philosophical. Is there still a chance for Frederick? "I leave it to my successors," Mr. Mathias said. "We have to hope."
Now a senior partner at Reavis, Davis, Jones & Pogue, a Washington law firm, the 68-year-old Mr. Mathias may dwell occasionally on the ups and downs of his long political career. But since stepping down from the Senate and entering the firm's district offices almost four years ago, he claims, he does not look back as a habit.
"I walked into my office on Jan. 3, 1987, and my first client was waiting," he said. "I went right to work, and it's been that way ever since."
Mr. Mathias is closemouthed about his clients and duties. He has assisted in his firm's representation of the Chinese Embassy and Preussag A.G., a West German engineering and energy conglomerate, according to Justice Department records. Recently he served as a legal consultant for the government of Turkey.
He also represents U.S. companies, he said, and travels frequently, including seven trips to his firm's offices in Western Europe since January. At least part of his work overseas involves helping clients get ready for the 1992 unification of the European market.
Mr. Mathias said legal work -- while less high-profile than being in Congress -- has proved equally challenging.
"There's a great deal of continuity in what I'm doing today," said the three-term Senate veteran, still sporting his trademark beat-up loafers and briefcase. "The fact that I hold no public office doesn't seem to be an impediment."
In one busy period last summer, Mr. Mathias delivered the introduction at a dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl one week, introduced French Prime Minister Michel Rocard at another function the next week and did the same for a high-ranking British government official at another event the third.
Mr. Mathias, who served for years on the Foreign Relations Committee, also has kept his hand in current events through his work on the boards of several groups -- including the American Council on Germany, the American Committee on the French Revolution and the Council on Foreign Relations -- and as a visiting lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
He recently was asked to serve as the U.S. representative on a new, 13-member advisory committee to the Organization of American States. This month he will begin chairing a joint panel with a former Senate colleague, former Democratic vice presidential candidate Edmund S. Muskie, to evaluate the selection process for U.S. vice presidents.
Although Mr. Mathias insists he is "a lawyer -- not a lobbyist," his new work does bring him back for occasional consultations on Capitol Hill. He cavorted with old GOP colleagues at a Senate Republican Leadership dinner recently and paid a return visit to Congress this summer for the joint congressional session honoring South African rights activist Nelson Mandela.
"It was like old-home week," he said. "All my old friends -- the Capitol policemen, the Senate staff as well as the members -- were just wonderful. They open up their arms and welcome you back."
Among his friends from his Senate days is Howard H. Baker Jr., Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff, with whom he lunches from time to time.
But Mr. Mathias said that although he enjoys maintaining Senate ties, he misses neither the campaign fund-raising nor the all-night Senate sessions. He said he has no regrets about retirement.
"I think it was a good time to leave," he said. "I think you can stay in office too long, both from a personal standpoint and from the standpoint of Congress." Still, he added, proposals now circulating to limit the number of terms members of Congress can serve would unnecessarily encumber the Constitution.
"My idea is that voters have in their hands the power to limit terms any time they want to," he said.
On the federal budget, Mr. Mathias recalls that he was the lone Senate Republican to resist President Reagan's massive tax-reduction plan in 1981. "That's the heart of this problem," he said. "We simply reduced the revenues below the level that's required to run the government."
If he misses anything about the Senate, he said, it is "the ability to pick up the phone and help some person solve a problem. People are so appreciative. I still meet them on the street, and they say you did such and such for me 10 years ago or you did such and such for me 15 years ago. They remember forever."
Mr. Mathias and his wife, Ann, still live in Chevy Chase. Both their sons -- Charles, a lawyer, and Robert, an assistant to U.S. Energy Secretary James D. Watkins -- live in Washington. The former senator also makes regular treks to his West Virginia farm, where he gardens and rides a tractor to keep fit.
Mr. Mathias said he still is feeling well and has no plans to trim back his full-time workweek. "Maybe the Lord will plan it," he said. "But I think it's important to keep going as long as you can."
If Mr. Mathias' greatest regret from his long congressional career is the elusive ransom payment for Frederick, he can take comfort from some favorite accomplishments. High on the list is his effort to pass sweeping civil-rights legislation, a cause he said he would take up today.
"If I had been there, I'd have voted for it," he said, referring to the civil-rights bill vetoed by President Bush this year. It simply restores the law to what Congress originally intended, Mr. Mathias said, "and that hadn't been very onerous."
Mr. Mathias also recalls his work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and his efforts to help disabled children win the right to public education. Even closer to home is the C&O Canal in Georgetown, where he helped create a national park.
"I walk out on the canal and see hundreds of people enjoying [it]," he said. "I think that's a good thing to have done."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun