Tony Blankley, a columnist and former editorial page editor of The Washington Times, died last weekend. His struggle against cancer was long, but for those of us who loved him, his passing came all too soon. Tony’s absence leaves a big hole in this world - and on these opinion pages - that can’t be filled.
Washington is a hard-nosed, inhuman place. One of the most telling quips about this dog-eat-dog city is that if you want a friend, you should get a dog. Tony proved to be the exception to that rule. I am as guilty as anyone of having played the game by the rough rules set down in this town, and it is savagery Tony insisted was unnecessary. The consummate gentleman, he would say you should never do anything you could not admit to your grandmother. He labored in the blood sport of Washington politics but managed not to get blood under his fingernails.
The fact that he hired me at all nine years ago was testament to how this man did not hold grudges, as I had been a staffer and remained loyal to House Majority Whip (later Majority Leader) Tom DeLay, who was instrumental in the ouster of Tony’s revered patron Newt Gingrich as speaker. There aren’t many politicos who are big enough to bury the hatchet and partner up with someone perceived to have been from an enemy camp, but Tony simply believed the conservative mission to rebuild and defend America was too important to let old animosities hobble a movement. He was always looking to the possibilities of the future rather than the letdowns and slights of the past. Tony’s heart wasn’t limited by partisanship, either, and his friendships stretched across the aisle deep into liberal Democratic territory.
One of the many unnatural aspects of the modern world is that everyone moves all over the place for jobs that take them from their loved ones and support networks at home. I left Michigan 16 years ago to journey to the nation’s capital amidst the enthusiasm following the conservative Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Since that time, I have lived far away from my family in the Midwest. For the past decade since he first hired me, Tony has been more than merely a boss and professional mentor but has stood in as a de-facto stepfather, older brother and reliable drinking buddy all rolled into one. I never made a move without consulting him, and we traded sentiments on everything, whether that be management challenges at various jobs, ideological positions our editorial pages should stake out, house renovations or girl troubles.
What I will miss most are the regular marathon dinners we shared at fancy eateries downtown, usually the Army and Navy Club. Sometimes I would bring along a third wheel if there was someone special I thought he should meet, but most of the time I kept him selfishly to myself, drinking and talking into the wee hours about subjects from Rudyard Kipling poems to the King James Bible or what kind of sports cars we would buy if money were no object. Tony’s British side instinctively tended toward big Bentleys, but after a cocktail or two he would admit to some lust buried deep down for a bright yellow Ferrari. Most recently, he had become fascinated with the war chronicles of Edwardian Englishman Hilaire Belloc, who would visit historic battlefields and pace off all the maneuvers on foot to get an exact scale accounting of what had transpired there. My old companion read and knew a lot about seemingly everything.
What Tony would enthuse about most, however, was his family and the assortment of furry friends this group of animal lovers kept at their home. At last count, the Blankley farm included nine cats, three dogs, four peacocks, two sheep, two horses and two llamas. Tony once told me that no one was allowed in the study when he was writing except for the cats, but he might have been kidding because I cannot imagine him ever turning anyone away for anything. He was so proud of his sons Spencer, a day trader, and Trevor, an intelligence analyst, and went on endlessly about their school exploits. Over the last year, he was increasingly guilt-ridden about the prospect of not being able to see his “jewel,” daughter Ana, a high-schooler and animal-rescue worker, into adulthood - as if the awful disease that was wracking his innocent body made him guilty of bad parenting. He likewise spoke wistfully about not getting to California more to see his sister Maggie and mother Beatrice.
Tony glowed like a teenager with a crush when bragging about his wife Lynda C. Davis and what a catch she was and how lucky he was to have met her. On one of our last occasions out, he spent a whole evening talking about Lynda’s officer training for the Florida National Guard and her previous work as deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, which he then spun into a lecture about how bachelorhood can drag on too long and that I should get married. Unlike most people, Tony could be charming even when henpecking.
I was privileged to have some intimate chats with Tony in his last days. At one point when he was worrying about leaving his family behind and the hard times they would endure, his voice cracked and this strong, brave man eked out, “Brett, I’m scared” - and I broke down. To my astonishment, he scrambled to comfort me. He said I should never stop having conversations with him just because he was no longer here as hopefully there is a parallel spiritual world as close to us as this physical one and he would be near to us there. He insisted that everyone had to keep going and by example explained how even in his worst condition he would force himself to dress up in one of his signature bespoke suits and knot up his necktie. “This might get me eventually,” he said of the cancer. “But it will do so much sooner if I give up, and I’m not ready to give up.” Even in dying, Tony Blankley was an example in how to live.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).