Tony was the press secretary when I started covering the White House. Though I had never regularly attended White House briefings, it didn’t take long to realize Tony was a master at something the old North Carolina basketball teams used to do under Dean Smith: Eat clock. He was well known for his spirited back and forth with reporters, but there also weren’t many questions that Tony couldn’t take and run with for several minutes when he wanted to. It was a frustrating but effective tactic to limit the number of questions he was asked.
Outside the briefing room, Tony was very open and welcoming of inquiries. I was surprised on one phone call when he volunteered his cell phone number. “You don’t have it? You should have it.” One time I called him urgently one evening on his cell phone only to find he was on vacation in the Outer Banks. He wasn’t upset at the interruption and patiently answered my question. He was relaxed. I remember one afternoon walking into his office to see him, if my memory serves, with his legs on his desk reading Guitar magazine.
The stuff about him loving his family and prizing that part of life was true, too. When my son was born last fall, he sent me one of the more memorable responses to my e-mail announcement. “Welcome to the best part of life,” he wrote. For a young father, it was an eye-catching piece of advice wrapped up in a congratulatory note.