Sunday, July 13, 2008

Visit Potus Notes to read Jon Ward’s blog entry, July 12.

Read commentary on Tony Snow’s impact on The Washington Times newsroom from the perspective of editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave at the Voices home page.

Tony Snow, the former Bush White House press secretary known for his wit and agility at the podium, who inspired others by facing cancer with hope and optimism, died early Saturday at Georgetown University Hospital. He was 53.

Mr. Snow, a former editorial page editor for The Washington Times, is survived by his wife, Jill Ellen Walker, and their three children.

He was mourned and remembered Saturday by President Bush and his former colleagues at the White House, by those at Fox News, where he worked as a TV and radio show host for 10 years, and by many others from across the political spectrum.

Mr. Snow had a long career in news and politics, starting out as an editorial writer and eventually running or helping run several newspaper editorial pages, before becoming a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and Fox News star.

He also was known as a devoted husband and father. He loved music, playing flute, saxophone and guitar in a local band called Beats Workin’.

“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Jill, and their children, Kendall, Robbie and Kristi,” Mr. Bush said.

“The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character,” he said.

Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes called Mr. Snow’s death “a tremendous loss for us who knew him, but it’s also a loss for the country.”

Mr. Snow announced his resignation as White House press secretary in August and was replaced by Dana Perino.

At the time, he said his health had nothing to do with his departure, even though he had lost considerable weight and his thinning hair had turned white during several months of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

“I ran out of money,” Mr. Snow said at the time. “As far as my health, I’m doing fine. Cancer has nothing to do with this.”

Mr. Snow said he wanted to make more money in part by writing books and giving speeches across the country, mostly on politics. His first book, however, would be on “how you deal with sickness.”

“One of the things that I have found out is that at least getting out and talking about my own experience with cancer is it’s proved to be helpful to people, and that’s enormously gratifying,” said Mr. Snow, who often would display a yellow “LiveStrong” bracelet from the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

From the podium, he praised medical advances and called his battle with cancer “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“I lost a mother to cancer when I was 17, same type, colon cancer. And what has happened in the field of cancer since then is a miracle,” he said.

Mr. Bush said at the time that Mr. Snow would battle his cancer “and win.”

Mr. Snow received his first diagnosis of stage three colon cancer, an advanced but still concentrated form, in 2005. His colon was removed and he underwent six months of chemotherapy, returning to work as a nationally syndicated radio host during the latter stages of treatment.

In May 2006, he became Mr. Bush’s third press secretary, replacing Scott McClellan, even though he had been publicly critical of the president, calling Mr. Bush “something of an embarrassment” to conservatives.

He proved to be an especially able representative for Mr. Bush, a figure that seemed better suited to the new world of 24-hour television news networks’ combative definition of news. Where his predecessors had been careful and calculating, Mr. Snow was eager to spar with reporters on Iraq, as violence there spiraled out of control in 2006, and on the CIA leak case and the subsequent trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.

“As President Bush’s press secretary, he did a remarkable thing. Press secretaries are usually on defense. Tony was on offense, explaining and promoting Bush’s policies and daring anyone to disagree,” Fox News contributor Fred Barnes said.

This more aggressive style occasionally got him into trouble, when his exchanges with reporters either became too heated or lost track of the facts.

In one instance, he apologized from the press briefing room podium for a back-and-forth with NBC reporter David Gregory. He also had to backtrack from saying that Mr. Bush opposed increased federal funding for stem-cell research because “he thinks murder is wrong.” Mr. Snow later said Mr. Bush had never equated stem-cell research to murder.

In late March 2007, cancer reappeared, this time in his abdomen.

Mr. Snow returned to work at the White House only a month later, saying he would undergo an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy followed by further treatment, and hoped to “throw it into remission and transform it into a chronic disease.”

“If cancer is merely a nuisance for a long period of time, that’s fine with me,” he said. “I’ve received a lot of notes from folks who have had far worse cases than I have who have survived many years with the kind of regimen that we’re talking about.”

“I won’t tell you how it’s going to work out, because I don’t know. But we obviously feel optimistic, and faith, hope and love are a big part of all of it,” he said.

Mr. Snow remained cheerful, optimistic and upbeat throughout his remaining time at the White House, from May to mid-September, even as his physical condition deteriorated.

One year ago, Mr. Snow wrote a column about his bout with cancer for Christianity Today magazine, titled “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.” Staring death in the face, he said, had “swept away everything trivial and tinny, and placed before us the challenge of important questions.”

“The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs and epiphanies,” wrote Mr. Snow, a Roman Catholic.

“We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us - that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us partway there.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Snow’s health had deteriorated severely.

Friends and colleagues said that despite his professional success, Mr. Snow was devoted first and foremost to his family.

“He lived for his family,” said Mrs. Perino. “He used to have on his desk three pictures of each of the kids, which didn’t leave a lot of room for papers, but he didn’t want them moved.”

Mrs. Perino said Mr. Snow inspired her to make a New Year’s resolution that whenever her husband called, she would answer the phone no matter how busy she was, even if it was to tell him she had to call him back later.

“It was, ‘How can you both do this job and be an active and committed family member?’ which he was,” she said.

Mr. Snow, the son of a high school principal and a nurse, was born in Berea, Ky., and raised in Cincinnati. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Davidson College in 1977, and in the years after college spent time in Kenya teaching physics and geography. Once back in the U.S., he was an advocate for the mentally ill.

He began his career as an editorial writer for the Greensboro Record in North Carolina. Mr. Snow went on to run editorial pages at the Newport News Daily Press in Virginia, the Detroit News and The Washington Times. He eventually became a nationally syndicated columnist. Then, in 1991, Mr. Snow was named head speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush.

In 1996, Mr. Snow joined Fox News as anchor of “Fox News Sunday” and went on to host the “Weekend Live” radio show, and then “The Tony Snow Show,” his last job before going to the White House.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called Mr. Snow “a loving father, husband, friend and truly one of America’s most gifted commentators. Whether he sat behind a radio mike or stood behind a White House podium, Tony Snow always sought to give the American people new insights into our government, political process and leaders.”

“Even when diagnosed with cancer, his fight served as an inspiration to all Americans,” Mr. McCain said.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said: “Churchill said, ‘I like a man who grins when he fights,’ and that was Tony Snow. For 35 years, as a writer, broadcaster and spokesman, he fought fiercely for what he believed in, and he did it with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. His loss is a loss for our country.”

Mr. Bush said it had been “a joy” to watch Mr. Snow at the podium each day.

“All of us here at the White House will miss Tony, as will the millions of Americans he inspired with his brave struggle against cancer. One of the things that sustained Tony Snow was his faith - and Laura and I join people across our country in praying that this good man has now found comfort in the arms of his Creator.”

A message on the Beats Workin’ Web site said this in tribute to Mr. Snow: “He was an inspiration to us all, a towering figure in so many ways, yet also a regular guy who loved just being with family and friends. We will miss him more than words, or even music, can say.”

Josh Deckard, one of Mr. Bush’s longest serving former aides in the press office, started up a page to remember Mr. Snow on the social networking site Facebook.

“I loved him like a second father,” Mr. Deckard said in an interview. “His humility wasn’t false like so many of us. He had a genuine awareness that each of his blessings was a gift from God.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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