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Head doorkeeper ensures all the rules are followed

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CHARLESTON, WV -

It may be the people's Capitol, but it's Tony's Senate.

Tony Gallo, Senate doorkeeper for nearly five years, is known for quietly keeping order and enforcing the rules.

Yes, there are rules of the Senate.

They go way back – even further than Gallo, 76, can detail – but they govern everything from who is allowed on the Senate floor, what they wear while they're there and who can speak, because only one person at a time is permitted.

"A lot of people think I make these rules," Gallo said. "I'm a professional, and the rules are the rules.

"My people say to me, ‘you're honest, and you don't show favoritism.'"

Anyone who has visited the Senate in the past few years has most likely come into contact with Gallo. But if the casual visitor doesn't remember him, that's a good thing.

Gallo is known among Senate regulars for the quiet and reserved but strict way he commands order within the chamber.

He knows he's got a reputation for being strict, and he's proud of it.

"There are certain rules and protocols for floor privileges," Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said. "He watches everything like a hawk. He is proficient, efficient and friendly, and when guests have the privileges of the floor, he makes sure they proceed in an orderly, respectable manner that's a friendly manner."

Gallo, a Logan County native, graduated from Morris Harvey College, what is now the University of Charleston, in 1954 with a degree in teaching and recreation management.

He went on to teach school and said he was one of the first physical education teachers.

"I loved it, and I loved the kids because I had a lot of kid in me," Gallo said with a smile. "I had more fun with them crawling around on the floors, crawling like a butterfly – sometimes the principal would come tell me we were having too much fun."

Gallo married Shirley 46 years ago, and the couple has a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Dawn, who died last year after a long battle with lupus. Gallo is a proud grandfather three times over.

After his time as a teacher, he spent a long time as the parking director for the City of Charleston. When he retired in 1976, his long-time friend, Darrell Holmes, who happened to be the longtime Senate clerk, suggested Gallo come to work for the Senate.

"I really thought he just wanted to talk, but he handed me an application," Gallo said. "I had only been retired a month!"

Gallo started working on the Senate Journal, which is a printed account of everything that goes on during the floor session. He did that for about eight or nine years, but then a doorkeeper had a heart attack and Gallo said he was recruited to be the West Wing doorkeeper during the daytime floor sessions on top of spending his evenings in the Journal room.

The next year, Gallo stayed exclusively on the Senate floor. After long-time head doorkeeper Jack Trail died, then-Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin named Gallo the acting head doorkeeper and started to teach him the stately ways of the Senate.

"Gov. Tomblin loved this place," Gallo said. "I mean, he loved the chamber, the carpet, the seal – he loved it here, and he wanted it run with class and professionalism.

"He instilled the idea that the Senate is a special place to come to."

Gallo said his tasks aren't just keeping wayward lobbyists and reporters off the Senate floor. He makes sure the lawmaker's waste baskets are emptied, the galleries where visitors sit are clean, all the right paperwork is updated and on members' desks and of course, all the doorkeepers open the three entryways to the Senate floor.

"It's common courtesy," he said. "I believe in common courtesy and treating people with respect."

And Gallo keeps safety in mind, too. Last week when he looked up and saw a visitor leaning over the gallery railing, it just took one look and a point for the man to scurry back to his seat.

"Something like that, if you have a big camera and you're leaning over the railing, it wouldn't take anything for a fall," he said. "My biggest concern now are these gun issues.

"Troopers are here on the floor with me, strictly for safety, and the Capitol police are here, but I'm safety conscious."

When the countless groups come to be recognized with resolutions on the Senate floor, it's Gallo who keeps them quietly organized in the back of the chamber, even when there are several groups in one day. He also lines them up neatly behind the ropes on the floor while the resolution is read. And he even has a specific formula for when he tells them to walk down to meet the Senate President.

And Gallo's "rules are rules" motto extends to lawmakers. He'll tell them to quiet down, too.

"If I walk to the side of the chamber where there is noise, I just smile and turn because when they see me, they quiet down," Gallo said.

Gallo's favorite story of his time as doorkeeper brings him to tears with laughter. Let's just say there is one minister who has never been invited back to the Senate.

But even those casual visitors notice the dignified order Gallo keeps in his Senate.

"That's the thing I want everyone to leave the chamber thinking," he said. "That they were accepted and they were treated with respect.

"I want them to say ‘those people were really good,' when they walk out the door with that blue folder in their hand."

Gallo said for all his storied strictness, he hasn't had a single group leave the Senate with a grumble.

"I may be tough at the beginning, but when they leave, they all say ‘thank you,' and shake my hand," he said. "That tells me we're doing something right."