- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Christine Warnke, a Capitol Hill lobbyist and humanitarian, just doesn't know when to quit. It's not simply that she's the typical Washington workaholic. The worldwide whirlwind that keeps this machine spinning is that she's a people-a-holic.

"I can't even go on vacation unless I work in helping people some kind of way," said Ms. Warnke, who delivered wheelchairs to African children when she took leave of the District last summer.

A single, working mother, her "day job" is as a governmental-affairs adviser with the law firm of Hogan and Hartson, lobbying Congress for funding for nonprofit organizations.

This native Washingtonian and "a proud" University of Maryland graduate goes on at a rapid pace, discussing her many "people" projects and nonprofit clients. But don't try to talk about her accolades and achievements. That task is best left to others.

For all her good works, Ms. Warnke will be honored in New York City later this week, when she will receive a Women of Excellence Award given by the Hellenes Abroad, an organization of Greek government officials and people of Greek descent worldwide.

Last month, the Daughters of Penelope, the largest and oldest international auxiliary of women of Hellenic descent, honored her during its congressional banquet with a Salute to Women Award, given every two years for excellence in serving the international and national community.

Ms. Warnke earned her stripes by spearheading the D.C. Commission for Women in the late '90s. She instituted a variety of self-sufficiency programs, including one in which private-sector employees trained women moving off welfare.

Not to stereotype folks, but to glance upon the statuesque Christine Warnke with her classical Greek goddess features and haute couture style, you might assume that she spends her days at upscale salons, spas and trendy restaurants.

Guess again. A working lunch, maybe.

And Ms. Warnke is among the growing number of single, professional women who are adopting children. She tried unsuccessfully to adopt an African child first. Then, in 1996, she found herself on a plane headed for Russia to pick up Anna, now 9. Two years later, she adopted John Sergei, now 6.

"A mother in a month," she jokes, "I didn't get the normal nine months' preparation."

"Focused" is a word Ms. Warnke uses frequently. "My mother was very focused. I am focused in helping people at whatever level," she said about the woman who pushed her into speaking publicly on behalf of the Greek community at an early age.

Ms. Warnke was influenced by her parents, Wilbert and Elizabeth, who stressed the importance of education, and by a neighbor, a Republican congressman whose guests included President Nixon.

"I was around politics all the time, and I loved it," said Ms. Warnke, who has held leadership roles in organizations since she was a Girl Scout. After she was hired in the late '70s to work for then-Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, she was hooked on the Hill.

The passion to help the underdog was garnered not only from watching Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, but also from her mother. "She was gifted toward helping people and she taught me to give back and to treat everybody equally."

Like her mother, Ms. Warnke said, "I want to leave an impact."

At the University of Maryland, she received bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees with a focus on D.C. history and co-authored the book "The Urban Odyssey," published by the Smithsonian Institution.

She was one of the first women to hold an office in the Junior Chamber of Commerce, where she helped establish a scholarship program for underprivileged D.C. art students at the Corcoran School of Art.

The number of local and national boards on which she sits is too long to list, but includes the Kennedy Center and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

But it was a trip to West Africa a decade ago that she says "changed my life." She had an epiphany on Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, where slaves were once held before being shipped to the Americas. "It just dawned on me that this is my mission. I have to help the African people."

Ms. Warnke has since traveled to the continent several times to deliver health care aid and is organizing a similar trip this summer.

"I try to connect people to other people so they can partner to be stronger," she said.

Among others, she is assisting basketball star Dikembe Mutombo with his foundation to build a hospital in his native land, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last month, she organized an event to benefit African orphans hosted by the African Ambassadors' Spouses Association, at which Seattle Seahawks owner Kenneth Behring was honored for establishing the Wheelchair Foundation, which committed 1 million wheelchairs to Africa.

Locally, she is passionate about her work with the Eisenhower Foundation, which teams with police officers to provide safe havens for at-risk youth, and with the Fortune Society, which provides support for ex-offenders.

Still, Ms. Warnke is a rarity in Washington: a humble person. Val Halamandaris, founder and president of the Caring Institute, which seeks unsung heroes and heroines to honor, pointed out that in Washington many people have inflated resumes and ideas about their importance. Not Christine.

"She's somebody who is gifted with understatement. She is universally respected and is deep down a good, solid, caring person," Mr. Halamandaris said.

Lynn Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation, said Ms. Warnke's work indicates that "the nature of the program is, in a way, a profile of the woman."

While Ms. Warnke is comfortable in the corridors of power, he said, she still has the wherewithal "to push the rock uphill."

Good thing Christine Warnke is a "people person" not content to rest on her Greek laurels.

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