A fond farewell to Leslie Oliver in U.S. Rep. Perlmutter’s office

…and welcome to new communications director Ashley Hause

[Updated 6-17-14 to amend the incorrect gender of Aaron Greco’s daughter in one of the photos below.]

It was a bittersweet occasion on June 4 when U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and his staff gathered at the Uptown Tavern in Denver for a “passing of the baton” party for their longtime communications and policy director Leslie Oliver.

After nearly eight years serving the constituents in the sprawling suburban congressional district, Oliver was leaving for a new position as external affairs and communications director for PERA, the public employees retirement fund. The well-respected Oliver, who joined Perlmutter’s staff after a stint practicing law in Denver, had become a mainstay in their office, and her departure was met with both emotional tributes and wishes of good luck as her numerous friends and colleagues toasted her in fashion.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter raises a glass to toast Leslie Oliver, who is leaving for a new job. “To one of the best people we could have ever had in our office representing me, defending me, helping all of us to talk to all of the media, and for the advice you’ve given us on the law — we wish you well, and God speed.”

“Raise a glass to Leslie,” the 7th CD congressman bade several dozen Oliver admirers on the patio of the popular watering hole in uptown. “One of the reasons Leslie has really excelled and succeeded at this job is because she’s shorter than me,” cracked Perlmutter in typical effacing humor.

U.S. Rep. Perlmutter presents departing communications director Leslie Oliver with a framed flag flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Turning more serious, the Democratic officeholder summed up the feelings of everyone. “To one of the best people we could have ever had in our office representing me, defending me, helping all of us to talk to all of the media, and for the advice you’ve given us on the law — we wish you well, and God speed.”

Danielle Radovich Piper, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Perlmutter, holds little Rosie Greco, who came to the going away party for Leslie Oliver with her dad.

Over the next hour or so, current and a few former staffers reminisced about their time spent working alongside Oliver, who, judging from the testimonials offered, played a major role in the congressional office based in Lakewood.

Jerry Pifer, Perlmutter’s director of constituent services and outreach, displays some memorabilia from Leslie Oliver’s tenure as communications director.

After being presented with a glass-framed flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol — the first of several departing presents and subsequent gag gifts — Perlmutter’s staff members weighed in.

If you look carefully, you can see Perlmutter’s name spelled out on Oliver’s fingernails painted in the campaign colors of her boss.

Jerry Pifer, director of constituent services and outreach in the office, acknowledged that her talking points were not approved, as she began rattling off both humorous anecdotes and serious asides from the last few years. On the comic front, she held up wall art depicting some of the male members of the staff.

Kathryn Wirkus, constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Perlmutter, stands by a poster with photos of Leslie Oliver. Lance Hostetter, a graduate student at CU-Denver, is next to her.

And on the serious side, Pifer reviewed the rules in their congressional office which also had value in other facets of life: Never assume; don’t take anything personally; always tell the truth; do your best; and lastly, have fun at all you do.

Leslie Oliver, left, symbolically hands over a poncho to her successor, Ashley Hause, who now oversees press and communications operations for the D.C. and Colorado offices of Perlmutter.
Photos by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“I’ll drink to those,” Perlmutter chimed in.

“I’ve been in denial for the last month and a half,” offered Danielle Radovich Piper, the congressman’s longtime chief of staff. Leslie was one of their first hires, and she recalled meeting with Oliver at a coffee shop near their old office shortly after Perlmutter was elected to Congress. Without knowing exactly what the position would entail, Oliver jumped at the opportunity.

Since that time, the tight-knit staff has worked together on major issues affecting the constituents in CD 7. As Oliver herself recalled, there was the financial crisis of 2007, two wars, tax cuts without paying for them, the biggest crash on Wall Street since the Great Depression…

But there have also been light-hearted memories attached to working for Perlmutter, with perhaps the most memorable one occuring in 2012 when Republican candidate Joe Coors mounted a tough attack on the incumbent. To counteract the dirty blows, staffers and campaign workers were instructed to don ponchos in an effort to protect everyone from the mudslinging. A tongue-in-cheek video narrated by Oliver showed staffers — and Perlmutter himself — wearing yellow ponchos as they went about their everyday business in the congressional office. The yellow ponchos were retrieved for Oliver’s going-away party and played a significant role in everyone’s recollections.

Oliver stood high on a chair to make her remarks. She wiped away tears as she recounted the “neat and talented and resourceful team” that she had worked with over the years. “I’m thankful everyday that Daniella and Ed recruited, or rescued me, and saved me from law practice. Thankfully I’m not on the side of the bus,” she quipped about her old law firm’s oversized signs now seen on the side of RTD busses.

“Not everybody gets to do their hobby and actually get paid for it,” Oliver said upon reflection.

“When I describe my perfect job, I already have it and the perfect team,” she said about her position with Perlmutter’s office. But sometimes, she continued, “we need a new challenge, sometimes you need to shake things up.”

‘Perlmutter for Change’ has successfully morphed into ‘Our Neighbor Our Voice,’ Oliver said about the motto of the office. The time had come for her to begin the next chapter of her life.

“I’ve been able to develop my voice and be part of your voice,” she added, and credited chief of staff Piper for exhibiting what true leadership ought to be.

Oliver presented gifts to staff members — most of them in fun and emanating from inside jokes — and there was a final toast from the congressman.

“One of her nicknames was the little general,” Perlmutter began. “She really organized all of us and made sure that we got things done and done in a way that citizens that we represent understood and appreciated. I just thank you again for all your advice and counsel.”

Hired as the new communications director in Perlmutter’s office, Ashley Hause is poised to also make a great impact. The congenial new hire is the former communications director for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and already has jumped into the fray.

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com

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