U.S. News

10.17.13

Why House Stenographer Dianne Reidy Snapped

The husband of Dianne Reidy tells Michael Daly that he knew the government shutdown had her stressed. He just didn’t know what—or who—was keeping her up at night.

The husband of the 48-year-old woman who is now the most famous stenographer in America knew his wife had been getting up in the middle of the night for the past four weeks.

But he did not know why until after the Capitol Police had hustled her from the podium at the House of Representatives to a hospital for psychiatric observation.

Only then did Dianne Foster Reidy tell 54-year-old Dan Reidy that she had been repeatedly awakened by the Holy Spirit and urged to deliver a message on the House floor, where she has worked for the past eight years.

She did not have to tell him how torn she must have felt at the prospect of violating congressional decorum.

“That’s so out of character,” he says. “She so respects the Capitol and the traditions of the House of Representatives.“

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She particularly loved the job after working in the court system, amid what her husband terms “the darkness of murder.” She had demonstrated her dedication to the House back when she was pregnant with twins and wracked by morning sickness. She had still reported for duty, equipped for any sudden nausea.

“Bringing a bag with her,” he says.

But she’s also a person of deep faith, and she would later tell him there was no question in her mind that it was indeed the Holy Spirit rousing her night after night, even before the shutdown and the looming default.

“Waking several times a night feeling that God’s just been pressing on her to open a Bible and get into his word,” Dan Reidy says. “Reading a Bible is not foreign to us, but getting up in the middle of the night definitely is. It’s just not a part of our life.”

The circumstances were so unusual as to make a command from on high seem all the more real to her.

“If that’s not’s God’s spirit…” Dan says.

He goes on, “What she was finding out was that God was impressing on her heart that He had a message He wanted her to share with the House of Representatives.”

She kept resisting the command only to be woken up by it yet again.

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Dianne Foster Reidy and her family (via Facebook )
“If she had told me, ‘I think God wants me to get up and say something,’ I’d be the first one to say, ‘No you don’t!’”

“The reason it took four weeks was because of her reluctance and her doubt,” the husband says. “She didn’t want to do it.”

She continued to resist even as the shutdown made Congress look all the more woefully in need of divine guidance. 

“This whole mess has just kind of sickened her to the whole process,” her husband says. “The alliances between people who aren’t really allies. The finger-pointing on the dais, [then] the arms around each other… Where are the people being served in this whole deal?”

He recalls, “She was just like, ‘Gosh, this is not what it’s about.’”

Another day of serving as a stenographer in an unholy mess would end with another night of being awakened by what she took to be the Holy Spirit. She kept resisting out of a sense of congressional sanctity that the representatives themselves were besmirching.

“That’s what my wife was battling, with this late-night wrestling with God,” the husband says.

But he learned this only later, even though he is a nondenominational Christian pastor and she would not have doubted his faith.

“I knew she was up and I knew God was dealing with her, but she didn’t feel she should share everything with me,” the husband says. “I didn’t know what the outcome would be.”

She would have been right to worry that he would seek to dissuade her.  

“If she had told me, ‘I think God wants me to get up and say something,’ I’d be the first one to say, ‘No you don’t!’” he reports.

He had no inkling of what was about to happen as she set off for work on Monday, though he was aware that the crisis in Congress was taking more of a toll on her than any murder case in her courthouse days.

“Personally and emotionally,” he says.

He knew she would be working late as the saner minds in Congress sought to end the crisis.

He tucked in their 7-year-old twin girls and he himself had gone to bed when he became the one to be woken up—not by the Holy Spirit, but by ringing phone. A caller informed him that his wife had stepped to the podium at the House of Representatives and delivered a message of some kind to the members just as they voted to end the shutdown. She had been taken to George Washington Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

A friend watched the twins while Dan drove from their Fort Washington, Maryland, home to the hospital. He found his wife in an examination room, where she told him what had been getting her up in the night. She said that the moment she had long resisted had finally just presented itself.

“The big vote, the whole crew was there, and she just felt the Holy Spirit knows the time she was to go up,” he reports.

She told him that the words she had spoken were not her own, that she had just been the messenger.

“She said she didn’t know what she was going to say,” he reports.

What she had said was playing again and again on television. Many were calling it raving.

“He will not be mocked!” she had begun. “The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God….”

Now that is was done, she told her husband that she felt greatly relieved.

“She felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off her shoulders,” he says.

He recalls, “I said, ‘You know what, honey, this is like when you were pregnant and agonized…’  She was obedient to God and gave birth to His message.”

She had suffered postpartum depression after the birth of the twins. The comparison ended there. The husband did not even consider that she was now suffering from some kind of mental disorder.

A psychiatric resident came in to speak with Dianne and the husband saw he was wearing a yarmulke. The Reidys are devout Christians, but the husband did not feel that a difference in faiths in any way precluded a discussion of faith.

“But he was there to see Dianne on a psychiatric basis,” the husband says. “That’s why he would say things like religious experience can be very nebulous. I would say, ‘No, this is a living God.’”

The resident did not seek to reconcile theology and psychiatry.

“I’m sure he has an opinion, but he didn’t share it with me,” the husband says.

After 45 minutes, the psychiatrist said that Dianne could go.

“He was a wonderful man,” the husband says of the resident. “I really enjoyed our time with him. He was very nice.”

Dan drove his wife home, arriving around 5 a.m. She went to bed with no expectation of being roused by the Holy Spirit.

“She feels fine,” Dan says.

The twins were still asleep and awoke with no sense that anything was amiss beyond the absence of their mother’s car, which was still at the Capitol. They began another day in the second grade. There remains the question of whether the mother will be allowed to go back to work.

“Obviously, it is not in the job description to get up and make statements,” the husband says, adding, “She wasn’t trying to disrupt or disrespect the House in any way. She was just being obedient to what God had placed in her heart.”

The husband figures the message also reflects what most Americans are feeling.

“I think she speaks for a majority who are really fed up with the whole process,” he says.

In her favor, her co-workers and supervisors at the Capitol have only good things to say about her.

“She’s wonderful lady,  and I don’t just say that because she’s my wife,” he says. “I’m a very blessed man.” 

Dianne Foster Reidy declined to speak to reporters on Thursday.

“She said, ‘I don’t have anything to say. I said what I said,’” the husband reports.

He says the psychiatric resident did ask her to see her primary-care physician.

“In case of another episode,” Dan Reidy says. “Believe me, Dianne is not interested in another episode.”