Do former officials remain honorable after their 15 minutes is up? It depends.

A web site comment today (and subsequent retort) pinged my memory, and had me digging for what the proper protocol is.


True, Tim is not a Senator anymore, but it’s not like he’s using it to get anything, and given he just left office it was very likely a slip of habit. But as I did note, it did bring up the issue of what is proper protocol.

Democratic State Senator Doris Miner, who had served in the 90’s was not unknown to refer to herself as Senator when out of office at least for a time. I know of another former State Rep who served a single term back in the 90’s who still refers to himself as “the Honorable.”

But they’re the exception more than the rule. Most are quite content to go back to being Joe Blow.  But, seeing the always pleasant comment section this AM had me scrounging around to look it up.  And I found a great reference in the on-line web site for the book “The Protocol School of Washington’s Honor & Respect – the official guide to names, titles, and forms of address.”

So, what does the protocol guide have to say about the use of former titles? It’s actually easy after you see it laid out:

Referring to Former Officials
By their Former Office in the Third Person?
       One thing I find missing is how one should reference a former United States Official in descriptive text or to a third party.  I notice that former Governor Huckabee is always introduced as Governor Huckabee on his TV show.  Is this correct, incorrect, or optional?  I assume it is correct to use their official titles when describing their actions in office.

Dear MLB:
Addresing Mike Huckabee as “Governor Huckabee” is not correct.
Mike Huckabee would not be referred to as “Governor Huckabee” at the Governor’s Mansion, at the State Capital, in Washington, D.C., or in the U.S. Capital. He’d be Mike Huckabee, former Governor of … or Mr. Huckabee.
Perhaps the producers of the show are concerned everyone won’t know who he is?
Former officials who hold a position of which there is more than one at a time — retired judges, retired ambassadors, retired generals, retired senators, retired bishops etc. — use their “title” in every situation for the rest of their lives.
But officials of which there there is only one at a time (The Governor, The President of the United States, The Speaker of the House, The Secretary of State, The Surgeon General …) don’t continue use of their former title.
They use what they were entitled before taking the one-at-a-time position. E.g., Dwight Eisenhower in retirement went back to General Eisenhower.  He was no longer The President”.
Same with Colin Powell … he’s no longer addresses as “Secretary” … he’s General Powell. 
Bill Clinton is now “Mr. Clinton.” When you hear a TV journalist saying “President Clinton” it’s a short-hand third-person phrase to quickly tell the viewer who is being discussed. It’s not a form of address.  If they are directly addressing him that way it is incorrect.
— Robert Hickey

Read it here.

According to the protocol guide, since they’re all former officials who hold a position of which there is more than one at a time technically, Tim, Doris, and others who have served in the legislature are quite proper in the use of their former title of Senator or Representative.

Now you know. (And knowing is half the battle.)



10 thoughts on “Do former officials remain honorable after their 15 minutes is up? It depends.”

  1. Dunno. I always greet Harvey Wollman as “governor” and former legislators as “senator” and “representative” and former mayors as “mayor.” However, to my reckoning, I’ve never heard any of them call themselves by their former titles.

  2. Protocol is all about formality.

    If you want to call Wollman Governor, that’s up to you, and an informal friendly greeting. If someone sent him a formal invitation for a matter of state, since there’ s only one Gov, you wouldn’t necessarily address him in that manner.

  3. When I use the same computer, ipad, or phone to comment on War College my ‘name’ PlanningStudent i already in the field, I don’t re-type it. I suspect the case is the same for most of you including Senator Tim Begalka.

    And I agree with Cliff, every Governor, in or out of office i refer to as Governor, in third person and when addressing them, of course until they earn a new title, such as Senator Rounds. What the style guide makes sense, its just way I’ve always addressed elected folks…

  4. Actually, Cliff is correct by what I was taught/told. When in a personal situation (not TV or large audience were confusion on whether it is current or former is unlikely or is an intentional misrepresentation), a person is to be referred to at their highest rank achieved. Such reference is not to honor the person but the highest office they held.

    Further, I agree with Cliff in that former Presidents, Governors, Mayors are not to refer to themself as anything but former.

    Thus, if I’m a host on a TV show and Clinton is my guest, I should say “Mr. Clinton, former US President.” But, if I meet him on the street I should say, “nice to meet you President Clinton or Mr. President.”

    That is my understanding.

  5. P.S. I agree with Pat if I were sending a letter.

    Personal letter wishing Wollman “happy birthday”, I’d say Governor Wollman.

    Letter where I want him to do something in an external capacity like maybe sending a letter of support on something or anything that hints as an official capacity, I’d refer to him as Mr. Wollman, former Governor or something like that.

    I think in general we should remember that Former Governor’s etc. have a lifetime standing that never goes away. That standing warrants honor as they continue acknowledge they have obligations with regard to demeanor and actions that should honor their former office and the current successor.

  6. P.S. One other comment: I seem to recall someplace in history that a former person who out of office was convicted of wrong-doing (either of action while in office or maybe after which demeaned the office) was formally stripped of their title. Kinda a post-impeachment. Memory is very fuzzy but I think it was either a US Senator or Governor. But, this could be wholly wrong so don’t repeat it without some form of confirmation.

  7. This is about the only place where I’ve still referred to myself as Senator. I guess it doesn’t make much difference to me, as I don’t believe there are any other Tim Begalkas that I could be confused with. I certainly have never referred to my as “the honorable” , although some of my mail still says that !

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