William Safire died this past week. He started in public relations and had a stint writing speeches for Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s corrupt and discredited vice president. But what gained him admiration from well beyond the fringe of the left or the right was his reverence for the English language. He demonstrated that skill in his New York Times columns for over three decades. He was also a living illustration that whatever one’s politics, it is character and personality that ultimately define the individual. Do you touch those around you with a special magic? Do you lift those in defeat and in despair to a higher place, regardless of their political leanings or even their public offences?
In his columns, Mr. Safire took on many interests and causes that frequently belied his avuncular tweed jacket and Hush Puppy attire. Some he hit rather hard. But it was not uncommon to see him later having lunch with the object of his occasional acerbic pen –and footing the bill for the privilege. Why did he do that? “Only hit people when they’re up,” was how he explained it to a Times colleague. It takes an uncommon person to understand where the battle of the office ends and where human compassion begins. Bill Safire was one of the rare gems in that department. He was his own man. He understood the value of words and placed a high value on living a life of meaning.
He will be missed