For Kaine, Midwestern roots grew from Harvard to Hondurus, friends say

The iconic Memorial Church on the grounds of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, seen here last month, is a familiar symbol of the university. Harvard's campus is the old stomping grounds of Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee for vice president, who attended law school there.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Tim Kaine arrived on the Harvard Law School campus in 1979 fresh from a Midwestern upbringing in the suburbs of Kansas City and graduation from the University of Missouri.

Nearly 40 years later, Kaine's law school classmates remember a young man who possessed a dry wit, a curiosity about the opinions of others, and a desire to help people. They also say that despite possibly being a heartbeat away from the presidency in a few months, Kaine might have been content to continue service on Richmond's City Council, where he began his political ascendancy.

"There is a part of him who would have been happy to stay on (Richmond) City Council and be mayor,'' said Dave Miles, who is now in the investment business for insurance companies.”But he saw opportunities to serve in a bigger way and he saw he could make an even greater contribution."

When Kaine sought higher office as Virginia's lieutenant governor in 2001, Miles said friends "thought it would be wonderful [for him] to get involved at a higher level." And Kaine came to believe he could succeed in higher electoral office, Miles said.

An Iowa native, Miles met Kaine at Harvard Law school orientation, later roomed with him, and remains a close friend today.

Scott Brown, an Ohio native and the CEO of New Energy Capital, a company focused on clean energy, also met Kaine during orientation. Brown roomed with Kaine, and trades text messages with him every couple of days.

"He had a great sense of humor,'' said Brown, adding that Kaine was a good conversationalist who was always asking questions.”He wanted to know what you think. He was curious about what others had to say,'' Brown said.

The conversations in the late 1970s and early 1980s didn't necessarily revolve around politics. "Tim was always more interested in the individual than in broad policy," Brown said. "He was not anti-establishment but skeptical of government and government power."

Kaine's dedication to helping others was obvious in a Jesuit mission trip to Honduras during a year's sabbatical from Harvard. That dedication became even more apparent, Miles recalls, during Kaine's involvement in the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project.

"These were people who had some challenges and some were dealt bad hands,'' said Miles, who said work in the program also led to Kaine meeting his future wife, Anne Holton.

Despite service as a Virginia governor, U.S. senator and now a vice presidential nominee, Brown said Kaine has remained the same.

While the senator has stayed focused on helping the individual, Kaine came to realize that if you used "power to do well, you could influence a lot of folks," Brown said.

The higher profile hasn't changed his friend, he added.

"I don't think the trappings of office are important to him personally,'' Brown said. Kaine's wife, children and siblings keep him grounded, as do friends, he said, adding, "He has kept very strong friendships."

Both Miles and Brown remember sharing a house with Kaine on Cambridge's Ellery Street.  It was there, Brown said, where Kaine and other roommates held barbecue contests and cooked dinners consisting of only corn dishes.

Miles said Kaine's wry humor was in full swing when he and others in a torts class paid tribute to Professor Duncan Kennedy. "On the last day of class we got up to honor him,'' Miles said.”We prepared a song about King Tut."

Both friends say Kaine has remained vigilant about certain issues since being elected to the U.S. Senate four years ago.

Kaine has repeatedly asked for an official declaration of war by Congress for the use of force against ISIS. Despite Kaine's efforts, the House and Senate have never agreed on a resolution.

Miles said Kaine has wanted "to restore the proper role for Congress when we are committing resources. This is something he feels strongly about."

Brown noted that Kaine wants a congressional vote "before sending troops in harm's way." Other issues Kaine has continued to focus on are gun control, in part because of the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, and his desire to provide equal opportunity to everyone, no matter their background.

"He knows people are born with innate talents and there is a responsibility to give them equal opportunities,'' said Brown. Kaine's commitment to providing vocational training and early childhood education are examples of how the senator has tried to give those without means a hand up.

While on the campaign trail this fall, Kaine has sought the comfort of friends. "He told me one of the things that could be helpful would be if different friends travel with him on the trail,'' Miles said. Miles recently visited with Kaine on a campaign stop. 

Despite an entourage of Secret Service agents, Miles said "he's still self-effacing, the comfortable Tim Kaine. He's learning from it, he's enjoying being with people and taking it all in stride."

On the campus of Harvard in mid-September, activity is teeming with visitors and students. The reaction to a Kaine vice presidential candidacy at America's oldest and most prestigious law school is for many eclipsed only by the potential of a Donald Trump presidency. Harvard is, after all, a longtime bastion of Democratic and liberal politics.

Third-year law student Korey Roati of Tucson, Arizona, said there has been a positive reaction to the Kaine nomination. But he confesses "there is a lot of anxiety'' about a Trump presidency.

Another Harvard law student said his classmates have spent much time discussing potential Trump Supreme Court nominees.

Kaine's friends are keeping their fingers crossed about the Nov. 8 election.

Miles will always be fond of Kaine, regardless of what office he holds. "Tim is a good guy who really can succeed in politics. He cares about the right things and is as smart as they come,'' he said.

Of a Clinton-Kaine victory, Brown added, "The country would be much better off with them in office."

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