Just about everybody in Washington will be telling Tony Snow stories for the next several days. Almost every one will have the same elements: Tony’s decency, his generosity with his time, his sincerity, his good humor, his upbeat attitude, and his deep love for his family. I share my Tony Snow story below not because it is unique, but because it is so typical of Tony; because so MANY people can tell similar stories that the re-telling of it really captures who he was, rather than me having some unique insight into Tony’s human goodness.
Anyway, when I was press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, Tony happened to be a neighbor and friend of another guy in my office. I was lucky, therefore, to have a better-than-usual introduction to Tony, and he struck me as an incredibly approachable guy. I was thinking then, I think this was in 1995, about returning to journalism, and wanted some advice about how to go about it, so I asked Tony if he could spare time for a cup of coffee one day. Instead, he invited me to lunch and told me to meet him at his office at the then-USA Today building in Rosslyn. Well, we walked from there to some brass-and-fern chain restaurant, and had lunch, and I kept asking Tony questions, and he kept giving good, REALLY thoughtful answers…. and lunch ended and we paid and I said something about knowing he needed to get back to work — but he said, no, let’s just relax and linger awhile, that he was enjoying the conversation and he could see I still had more questions and that he wanted to be sure he could be as much help as he possibly could be. So, despite my protestations that I didn’t want to take too much of his time, we ended up taking something like a two-hour lunch, all the way until Tony seemed satisfied that I now seemed comfortable with a plan of action.
His advice, by the way (in a nutshell) was that I may need to leave DC in order to get back here as a top columnist; that I should go to a decent paper anywhere in the country and build up clips and awards and just see where it would take me. And that’s what I ended up doing, exactly, first in Little Rock and then in Mobile. And while I didn’t speak to Tony often during that decade away from DC, the few times I did call him he responded immediately and warmly. I remember comparing notes with him at some length, for instance, during the Bush-Gore legal fight.
Anyway, when, ten years after I had left DC, I got a chance to come back, but had some concerns, I called just two people for advice: Livingston, and Tony. Again, Tony got back to me right away, and was incredibly generous with his time on the phone, and he basically said what Tom Cruise’s character said in Risky Business, which is that “sometimes you’ve just gotta say ‘what the ****'” and take a risk and see if it works. In short, he said, I should jump at the chance. So, again, I took his advice.
The coda to that is that when I wrote the column that Wlady linked to below, I received more reader responses to it than anything I have ever written, literally hundreds of e-mail letters and some phone calls as well, almost every one of them asking where they could “sign up” for a Snow for Senate (or even Snow for President) campaign. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the positive feedback, and took the opportunity to e-mail Tony at the White House a couple of examples of them. Note that I wasn’t in regular touch with him or anything; I think we had spoken just twice in the year since I had moved back to DC. But within two minutes of sending the e-mail, I received a phone call from Tony, laughing delightedly at the kind responses my column had gotten but insisting that no, he never would be a political candidate. But he invited me over to the White House just to chat, and a few days later I went on over and we sat in his office in front of a roaring fireplace for nearly an hour; he just mainly wanted to check up on how things had been going for me since I had returned to DC, and, as always, acted as if there were absolutely nothing in the world more important to him or more deserving of his time right then than to inquire about my life and my happiness.
And the key thing here, it wasn’t ME in particular who attracted such kind attention from Tony; this was, it seemed, how he tried to treat EVERYBODY who entered his orbit. He just cared about people. And he was fun to be around. And, as everybody will tell you again and again, when he talked about himself, it was always not really about himself but about his family. I remember being struck by that back in Rosslyn in 1995 and struck again by it at the White House in 2007: This man just LOVED his wife and children, and he couldn’t go more than a few minutes in any conversation without working in some warm family reference.
He was a happy man, and a good one. My prayers are with his family and his close friends. I will miss him. So will this nation. May he rest in God’s peace, and in joy.