Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s search for a vice presidential running mate—which ended Saturday, August 11, with his pick of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin—put Sen. Rob Portman ’78 in the spotlight this summer, introducing the well-respected Ohio senator to a national audience.
Portman has for weeks been among the prominent Republicans mentioned as finalists for the second spot on the ticket. The senator on Saturday told The Washington Post that he’s looking forward to continuing to work for Romney as chairman of Romney’s campaign in Ohio.
While he’s just become a household name this political season, Portman has long been well known in the Dartmouth community as a quietly generous alumnus.
“Both in Washington while serving in government, and in Hanover on trips back to campus, Rob has made a point of sharing the benefits of his insights and experiences with Dartmouth students who are just embarking on careers that will be spent trying to address the public policy challenges that face their generation,” says Professor Andrew Samwick, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving ’72a, P ’10 Professor of Economics, and director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth.
Romney’s choice of Ryan means that Nelson Rockefeller ’30 remains the only Dartmouth graduate to have served as the nation’s vice president. Rockefeller, for whom the Rockefeller Center is named, was picked in 1974 by President Gerald Ford to serve as his vice president after Ford took over following the resignation of President Nixon. Rockefeller served until 1977.
No newcomer to public service, Portman has represented Ohio in the Senate since 2010, served on the White House staff of the first Bush Administration, as U.S. Congressman from Southwest Ohio for 12 years, and in two Cabinet-level positions in the administration of President George W. Bush. While in the House, Portman was House Republican leadership chair and was the liaison between the House leadership and the White House. He also served in the first Bush White House from 1989 to 1991 as associate counsel to the president, and later as director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
Portman graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in anthropology, receiving highest distinction in his major, and received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1984.
His family has a long history at Dartmouth and includes Portman’s grandfather, Arthur Portman, who graduated from Tuck in 1915; his father, the late William Portman ’45, Tuck ’47; and brother, William “Wym” Portman III, Tuck ’81.
The Portman family in 2004 established the Portman Entrepreneurial Leadership Fund at the Rockefeller Center. The fund is designed to “foster an understanding and appreciation of small business development, entrepreneurial activity and risk-taking, and the role that public policy plays in shaping its course” and supports the Portman Lectures in the Spirit of Entrepreneurship and other related initiatives.
“We’re so proud of Rob Portman and all of the Dartmouth alumni whose leadership and public service are making a difference in Washington today. We’re very grateful to Rob for his strong and unflagging support of Dartmouth students and programs,” says Martha Beattie ’76, vice president for Alumni Relations.
Matthew Slaughter, associate dean of faculty at the Tuck School of Business and the Signal Companies’ Professor of Management, said: “Over the years I have had the good fortune to work with Sen. Portman in a number of capacities. He is an extremely talented and effective public servant—very much in the spirit of Dartmouth graduating people who work to improve the world.”
In 2007, Portman was awarded the Daniel Webster Distinguished Public Service Award by the Dartmouth Club of Washington, D.C. The award recognizes members of the Dartmouth family who honor Dartmouth through distinguished public service. A year later, Portman received the Dartmouth Public Service Award at the Rockefeller Center’s 25th anniversary celebration. Also in 2008, Portman weighed in on the last presidential election as a panelist at Dartmouth’s “Reflections on the 2008 Campaign: Challenges for the New President.”
Portman has been a member of the Rockefeller Center Board of Visitors, an Alumni Fund volunteer and a Reunion Committee member. Last summer, he lectured in the “Contemporary Issues in American Politics and Public Policy” class in conjunction with the Leading Voices in Politics and Policy series.
Portman also made a trip to Dartmouth this summer and met with students in the Public Policy 40 class, and also with students in the College Republicans group, and with those who have been interns in his office.
“Rob’s a remarkable resource for students. I was struck last summer by his empathy. When we had our parade of famous speakers in the Leading Voices series and accompanying class, he was the only one who read the assignment for the memo that the students had to write based on his talk,” says Charles Wheelan ’88, a senior lecturer and policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center.
“He was more in tune with what they needed to get out of his visit than any other speaker. And he’s just a very nice guy.”