Washington D.C. - The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute's (CHLI) Stephen D. Vermillion, III Congressional Staff Appreciation Award is presented annually to a Congressional staff member of each party who support the advancement of the Hispanic Community in the United States, have demonstrated support for CHLI's programs and activities, and share CHLI's dedication to bipartisan leadership. These dedicated individuals are committed to our democratic process, have engaged in meaningful bipartisan dialogue, and foment the Hispanic community's economic development, political involvement, and educational opportunities.
For July's Spotlight, we recognize and remember the award's name-sake, Stephen D. Vermillion, III, one of CHLI's founding members and a longtime Congressional staffer.
Born in Washington, D.C., Steve was a 6th generation Washingtonian.When he was in the 3rd grade, his family moved to Latin America because of his father's career as a clandestine officer for the CIA. While there, he became passionate about America's relations with Latin America, especially Cuba, an issue Steve would work extensively on during his later service on Capitol Hill.
After moving back to the U.S., Steve graduated from Loyola University in Baltimore with a degree in Political Science and Spanish. While at Loyola, Steve was active in student government and a member of two academic honor societies. Later, he earned a Masters degree in International Affairs, Latin American Studies from the University of Miami (FL) Graduate School of International Relations, and a diploma for National Security Decision Making at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI.
Steve was a devoted family man, marrying his wife Jennifer in 1994 and raising their two children together, Sarah and Joe. In his free time, Steve painted and wrote poetry. An exceptional rower, he was captain of the Loyola's rowing team in college and tried out for the 1982 U.S. Men's National team. For many years, he served on the board of directors of the Potomac Boat Club and loved his mornings spent rowing on the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.
Steve began his Congressional career in 1986 and proved to be a loyal and trusted public servant, which helped him rise through the ranks. He served as Director of Communications for the Republican Study Committee under then-Congressman Bob Livingston of Louisiana. After meeting Steve on a trip to Central America, Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin hired Steve to be his foreign affairs and national security legislative assistant. Steve then worked as the Director of Congressional Relations at the Cuban American National Foundation from 1989 to 1993.
Upon taking office in 1993, former-Congressman, and current CHLI Chairman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida hired Steve to be his Legislative Director, soon-after promoting him to Chief of Staff. It was in this role that Steve had the greatest impact on shaping American policy. Working closely with Congressman Diaz-Balart, Steve helped secure codification of the Cuban embargo, ensuring that sanctions shall remain in place until the regime releases its political prisoners, allows for a free and independent press, legalizes political parties and labor unions, and holds free, fair, and competitive elections. Furthermore, he helped guide the passage of another one of Congressman Diaz-Balart's legislative priorities, the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) which granted permanent legal status to Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries, and their dependents, who came to the United States prior to 1990.
It was also at this time, in 2003, that Steve helped Congressman Diaz-Balart found CHLI. He was integral in ensuring that CHLI was legally and financially established. Together, they developed CHLI's vision to focus on leadership development, business, and entrepreneurship.
In July 2012, CHLI awarded Steve with the Congressional Staff Appreciation Award. At the ceremony, Steve reflected on his 18 year tenure in public service. He said "My whole career has been about working under the radar. And I really believe if you don't get obsessed with getting credit for something, there's no limit to what you can accomplish."
On November 15, 2012, Steve passed away at his home after a four year battle with leukemia. Prior to his passing, the Potomac Boat Club, which he loved so dearly, named a boat in his honor. His teammates travelled to his home in the early morning hours and held the ceremony on his front lawn so he could witness it. Furthermore, the CHLI Board unanimously voted to name the Congressional Staff Appreciation Award in his honor.
"Steve's strength was rooted in love. He deeply loved his family and believed in the basic dignity of all people to live free. He was an extraordinary man who helped countless individuals, both the powerful and the weak, treating them all with respect, courtesy and compassion. Not only did he possess great physical strength, he also possessed the strength of his convictions and the highest moral character. His steady hand guided CHLI's beginnings, but more than that, he continues to be a shining example of how a public servant should conduct himself at all times. I miss my friend, but I know he is looking down on us, smiling" said CHLI Chairman, former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
Steve's friend and rowing partner, Angela Venuto, wrote this poem in Steve's honor:
Standing tall with a glimmer of mischief in his eye - one hand on the oar and the other carrying an orange cooler
Enthusiastic and boisterous with life but still humble about his many gifts
A fire burning in his heart and soul, whose bright light shines on us still
Grinning from ear to ear - more joie de vivre than has ever existed in one man!
His love for his family is enduring and clear,
Zeus's great strength embodied in one man,
His steel will was only surpassed by the depth of his heart.
That's our Steve and he lives with us still - our memories clear and our hearts full.
We take him with us and never forget what he taught through his spirit, his heart, and his will.