Recall any major figure or story in politics over the last three decades and there is a good chance that Ron Klain ’79 has been right there for much of it. He has been Chief of Staff for two U.S. Vice Presidents, clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, overseer of a global health crisis and portrayed by Kevin Spacey in a movie. Not too bad for a man who has never had political ambitions of his own. Perhaps it was the races he won and lost for student government office at Northview and North Central that shaped the path, but the lasting impact of a Washington Township education would pave the way for an incredible career in public service.
Klain fondly recalls his 10th grade history class with Norman Taylor, where he had to write a weekly paper on a pivotal figure in U.S. History, that planted the seed in his interest in government and its place in history. He would take that thirst of knowledge with him to Georgetown University, becoming the first member of his family to finish college. Finishing wasn’t enough. He graduated top of his class, did the same at Harvard Law School (where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review) and would earn a clerkship on the Supreme Court for Justice Byron White.
“He demanded that we really pay attention to details and that we work really hard,” Klain recalls of that experience. The instilling of hard work and dedication would drive Klain into the political world, but not as a politician. He worked in law on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, working with then-Senator Joe Biden. He would serve as Chief of Staff for Attorney General Janet Reno, leaving that post to serve in the same capacity for Vice President Al Gore. Klain affectionately refers to his Chief of Staff roles as a “traffic cop,” managing a staff (upwards of 80 people) while also representing the ideas and beliefs of a major figurehead.
He had a front-row seat for the Bush-Gore presidential race in 2000 (remember the hanging chad?) and would serve as the General Counsel of the Recount Committee, which would turn into his likeness being shared on the silver screen. With the Democrats out of the White House, Klain worked in the private sector for eight years before he was tapped again to serve, heading back to serve as Chief of Staff for Vice President Joe Biden. He would hold that position for two years. His most recent role in the administration was when President Barack Obama chose him as the “Ebola response coordinator,” overseeing the global crisis of the disease.
It’s been a long and successful road for Klain, with more stories and accomplishments than can be written for this North Central Alumni Hall of Famer, but he still remembers losing to Northwest High School in the Brain Game his senior year. Sometimes, it’s the battles you don’t win that propel you forward.