Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow

Booting up my PC this morning brought sad news. A familiar face – a friendly face – popped up on the screen. Then the headline shook me awake: “Former Bush Spokesman Dies.” Here’s how the Washington Post wrote it up.

In a town with more than its share of worms, weasels, louts and Machiavellian manipulators, genuinely good people stand out like sore thumbs. And Tony Snow, the former White House spokesman who has succumbed to cancer at 53, stood out from the crowd.

He always retained his humility and humanity while working in milieus – first the major media and then politics -- that can squeeze them both out of you. If he was a typical Washington climber, he hid it well. Snow rose through the ranks on the merits, motivated not my personal ambition but a genuine passion for ideas and love of country. He delivered the conservative message with the calmness, composure and good humor of someone who has confidence that reason and common sense can win out in the end.

My brushes with Snow were brief but always pleasant. My entrée came courtesy of my sister, Leslie, who knew Snow from the days when they both worked in Detroit media, she with PBS, he with the Detroit News. They stayed in touch after both went to Washington. These connections were tenuous. I was just the brother of someone he knew from a previous life. But he was always gracious when we crossed paths professionally or socially, treating me as if we were old friends. And that made me think of Tony as an old friend.

Frankly, I was a little worried, and surprised, when Tony leaped from the television studio into the snakepit of the White House briefing room. I had no doubt he could help the president deliver his message, and neutralize some of the press room prima donnas with his humanity, humor and credentials as a real-world journalist. But I thought it was a potential step down, into muck and mire that might leave a good man spattered with both. That he managed to emerge unscathed – and, in fact, as a hero for his tenacious battle with a killer -- underscored his decency and integrity as a person.

He took the White House job not because it would serve as the capstone to a brilliant career – he was still young and would have gone on to do greater things, I’m sure, had events not taken such a tragic turn -- but because the president needed him. It’s that simple, really. He was called to serve and he did.

That’s just the kind of guy Tony Snow was.

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