Sometimes Government Really Does Work! Even for a Dang Furrigner!


I’ve meant to write this experience down for a while now. As I’ve blogged about several times, I lost my brother in November, 2011. When Jon-Marc received his cancer diagnosis, I started planning a trip to Scotland with Sean to spend Christmas with Jon-Marc and the rest of the family. At the time, both of our passports needed to be renewed.

I’m a British citizen, so I needed to renew my British passport. The photographs for British passports require different dimensions than American, and that proved to be a complication. I won’t go into details, but several attempts to get photographs didn’t work out for various reasons. Sean was getting his photograph taken at the same time for an American passport but with the difficulties encountered we never did get a photograph for either of us. Despite the warnings about printing the photo yourself, it was decided that was the only route for me with the time left. Lon took my photograph and then worked with the photo editing software to get it the right size and printed at as high a quality as possible. At this point, time was running seriously short. The process for the American passport was a lot simpler, so we were not too concerned about Sean’s passport yet.

On November 3rd, I received the call I had been dreading. My family told me I needed to get over to Scotland as soon as possible because Jon-Marc was in really bad shape. The earliest I could leave was a week and half, so I booked our flights  and then attention turned to the passports. I had submitted my passport application, so I called the British Embassy in DC, and they told me the passport would be there any day. Then we checked to see how we could expedite the process for Sean. My wonderful friend, Alecia, told me her parents had driven to DC, only 3 hours away, and been able to get her a passport the same day. I called to find out if that was still true and found it was, but I had to make an appointment. The soonest I could get the appointment was 2pm the following Thursday. I booked the appointment, and Lon made plans to drive up there with Sean that day. I didn’t plan to go because I had already missed so much work and needed all the vacation I had left to cover this trip and the one already booked for December. [Aside: Did you know the State of Virginia doesn't count a brother as immediate family ... yeah! I had to use my vacation for all time taken related to this situation.]


Unfortunately, Jon-Marc was not able to hold on any longer. Two days after the phone call, on a pretty Sunday morning, I was at the offices of one of the people I work for updating the virus protection on all the computers. I had my laptop beside me, and my Mum came on Skype to let me know they needed to call now. Jon-Marc had passed away a few hours earlier. Amazingly I managed to hold myself together enough to finish up what I was doing then calmly drive home before the floodgates opened. Now we were flying home for the funeral instead of to see Jon-Marc.

Lon’s health was still pretty poor at this point. He couldn’t go very far without oxygen and how much he could do each day varied considerably. He was having a bad week leading up to the DC trip and hadn’t been able to get out and get the passport photos for Sean yet. The plan was to drive up to DC in plenty of time, get the photographs, and then go get the passport. To quote Rabbie Burns:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

The morning of the trip to DC, I had a meeting. I set off to make my meeting confident Lon had his alarm set and would be on the road by the time I was out of my meeting. When the meeting was over I checked online and didn’t see anything to indicate Lon had been up and active. Yes, we’re that geeky there are ways and means to tell if something seems out of place in our activity within the family. I ran around to the house and found he was still asleep. I mentioned it was 3 hours to DC, right? The time was now 11am, and they both had yet to wake up. The 3 hours doesn’t include time to get in the city center and then there was still the question of the photograph. I was distraught. I couldn’t imagine going without Sean. We had never been apart for more than one night, never mind a whole week and at such an emotionally difficult time.

Lon managed to pull himself together, and the decision was just to keep rolling and go on up there. They got out the door and on the road, and then I proceeded to have a good cry to myself before pulling things together and trying to figure out something to do that would be productive. I called the Passport office to find out if there was a way they could stay open later. I explained about trying to get home for the funeral, but the lady on the phone told me I was out of luck. They were closing early that day and then the next day was a holiday so I couldn’t even make an appointment for Friday. The flight left Sunday, and the funeral was the next day!

I hung up the phone, sat and thought for a few minutes and remembered talking to Virgil Goode’s assistant at a Leadership Farmville class. At the time, Virgil Goode was our congressional representative. When asked what types of things she dealt with his assistant told us that one of the common issues people brought to the office was passport problems. I got online and looked up the  office numbers for our current representative, Robert Hurt. I figured DC was as a good a place to start as any and called that office. I spoke with a lovely lady there and explained the situation. She told me she was very sorry, but their office did not deal with passport issues. She gave me the name and number of a lady in their Charlottesville office and explained this type of issue was the Charlottesville lady’s speciality. I had to get back to work, so I called Charlottesville as I walked to work and spoke with yet another lovely lady who worked for Mr. Hurt. I am embarrassed to say I cannot recall her name, but I will be forever in her debt. She told me not worry it was possible to get this worked out. She told me the most important thing was for Lon and Sean to keep on making their way to DC even though they would not make it in time. She gave me her information, then told me to call and give it to Lon and Sean and make sure they kept on the road to DC, then I was to call her back. When the boys got to the passport office in DC if it had closed, they were to call her immediately.

After talking to Lon and Sean and assuring they were still on their way I called the lady in Robert Hurt’s office back and she got all my relevant details. She then told me to call her back if I had any concerns but reassured me she was already working on making this happen. The next few hours were pretty excruciating waiting to hear something from someone. I finally got a call somewhere between 4pm and 5pm. It was Lon and he told me he had bad news. My heart sank. After pausing he went on and told me that the passport office was closed when they got there and then paused again. I was trying to process that information when he went on to say and now the good news… jerk!

On arriving in DC they had headed to the passport office area and parked nearby. Luckily there was a passport photograph place nearby … of course! And of course they paid a ridiculous price for the photographs but it was worth it. Upon reaching the passport office it had just closed and the security guard was not letting them in. Lon called the lady in Charlottesville who told them to go to another area of the building. Upon reaching that area it turned out to be the same place where government representatives and other VIPs go to get their passports. The lady in Charlottesville had faxed over the information clearing the way for Sean to get his passport. At the time of the call they were just sitting in the office waiting while the passport was manufactured.

I can’t say enough about how nice the ladies in both of representative Hurt’s offices were when dealing with us that day. They were so sensitive to the situation and made sure that we were assured this was absolutely something that could be resolved … even though it seemed so impossible.

Family, Living in America

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