- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

With the passing yesterday of Bob Hope, America lost a citizen of the first order — an uncommon entertainer and a presidential confidant, a compassionate giver and a patriot. While his legacy of laughter will echo through the annals of Americana, his unstinting service to U.S. soldiers will stand as the true memorial to his life.

Mr. Hope was one of the many British-born citizens who grew into greatness in America. His family emigrated to Cleveland from Eltham, England, in 1907, when he was 4 years old. Mr. Hope became a vaudeville star by 1930 and, in subsequent decades, he became the foremost entertainer in radio, film and television — starring in 75 films, headlining 284 NBC specials, hosting the Academy Awards 18 times. He also authored or co-authored 10 books. He finally retired at age 95, having won more awards, and probably having cracked more one-liners, than any comedian in history.

Yet, what made Mr. Hope so admirable was that his extraordinary gifts were tempered with such an even character. He thrived on applause but he disliked grandstanding. His wise-cracking persona never hid his humility, his compassion or his patriotism.

Mr. Hope gave his first performance for the troops at March Field in California in May 1941, but as he later told Ward Grant, his director of media relations, “I thought nobody was as good as I was. Then I entertained my first GI audience and realized what their contribution was compared to mine, and I was left wanting.”

He went into combat zones despite the danger, and toured in Vietnam despite its unpopularity. When the Holocaust was at its height, Mr. Hope even performed at a controversial benefit to save the Jews of Europe.

Mr. Hope’s giving to charity was lavish, but his ego was almost non-existent. For all the laughs he received from the foibles of others, he was often his best target, and he relished in poking fun at everything from his appearance (“My mother thought the doctor had left the stork and taken the baby”) to his failure to win an Oscar (“Welcome to the 1968 Academy Awards, or, as it’s known at my house, Passover”). His comedic routines were neither profane nor malicious, and even though he poked fun at their scorecards and policies, Mr. Hope became the friend and golfing buddy of many presidents. He eventually amassed a fortune, but he and wife Dolores — whom he married in 1934 — lived together in the same house for more than 60 years.

From all of the accolades he earned, Mr. Hope’s most cherished citation was his congressional designation as an honorary veteran. That is appropriate. While the laughter he gave may eventually fade, the monumental service will stand through time.

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