Tony Blankley was a remarkable man. He combined intellect, passion for freedom and passion for life into a wonderful personality that attracted virtually everyone privileged to work with him or know him.
He came by that unusual combination from his childhood. He grew up in a very British household in Hollywood. His father had been Prime Minister Winston Churchill's personal accountant. Then after World War II, his father moved to Hollywood and became a vice president for finance in a major studio.
Tony grew up surrounded by stories of Churchill saving civilization by defying the odds and leading his nation through the battle of Britain. Tony was also surrounded by all the glamor of Hollywood. He became a child actor and learned movie-making from the inside.
Through social connections, he became part of Ronald Reagan's campaign for governor. His connection was Nancy Reagan's closest friend Betsy Bloomingdale. It was that kind of life.
In his mind, Tony combined Churchill and Reagan into a heroic conservative tale of great men changing the patterns of history. Of course, he was right.
Churchill's defiance of Hitler and Nazi militarism in June of 1940 is the stuff of legends. A less courageous, less confident leader would have negotiated a truce leaving Europe in Nazi hands (as almost happened).
Without Reagan's deep insights into communism and willingness to defy our national elites (including virtually the entire State Department) there would still be a Soviet Empire.
With these two heroes to emulate, Tony became intrigued with the power of words to impact events.
He worked in Reagan's campaigns and governorship in California. Then he helped with the presidential campaign and found himself doing public affairs for Secretary Ted Bell at the Department of Education. Tony helped launch and communicate one of the most important reports in the history of education, "A Nation at Risk."
By the time I was privileged to work with Tony he was a seasoned veteran of government and political communications. We were partners in communicating the Contract with America and developing the first Republican speakership in 40 years.
Tony explained our policies through complicated and difficult fights including two government shutdowns.
He occassionally grew tired of the constant combat with the Capitol press corps but after an evening at home with Lynda and the kids, he would bounce back and enter the office the next day with a spring in his step and a jaunty smile.
I always thought his pet llamas were a key part of his ability to bounce back. There was something slightly absurd about the speaker's press secretary having pet llamas. It was just the touch of uniqueness and frivolity that made him such a complete person.
Everyone who knew him and loved him (and that deeply includes Callista and me) will miss him. But we will always be enriched by the memories of this wonderful patriot and friend.
Newt Gingrich is former speaker of the House and a Republican presidential candidate.
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