Soon after Bill Schulz, the longtime Washington editor of Reader’s Digest, retired in 2003, I joined him for lunch at his favorite table at Washington’s Palm restaurant. As we were seated, I told Tommy Jacomo, the restaurant’s iconic maitre d’, “This one’s on me.” He looked at me and at Bill and replied, “About time, don’t you think?”
It certainly was. I had been lunching with Bill fairly regularly at The Palm for something like 30 years, during which I sought and received solid career advice and encouragement while discussing the politics of the day or, more often, baseball.
The Palm in those days was Bill’s office away from the office. He could be found there most days lunching alongside an interesting and ever-changing mix of politicos, journalists and lobbyists, many of whom were wont to stop by his table to exchange gossip or just greetings.
Bill died this week. The country and America’s conservatives lost a true hero and I lost more, a valued friend. It is difficult today to realize just how important and influential a publication Reader’s Digest was in post-World War II America.
It was read cover-to-cover and was in everyone’s house and on the table in every barber shop. The New York Times and The Washington Post writers and editors today may think they work for influential publications, but the Digest in its day was the real deal.
The magazine was staunchly anti-Communist and reliably conservative through the ‘90s thanks in part to Bill and the writers he recruited. He shunned the spotlight but recruited, guided and edited some of the most influential writers of the era.
He could spot talent in places others passed over. Ken Tomlinson, a young man with promise from Galax, Virginia, was one example. Bill met Ken when he arrived in Washington while Bill was writing for Fulton Lewis Jr. — perhaps the most listened-to radio commentator of his day and whose columns also appeared in more than 500 newspapers — and contributing to Human Events.
When Bill went to the Digest, he hired Ken, who went on to become the Digest’s editor and then head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
I was eager to meet Bill when I arrived in Washington still wet behind the ears because when I ran for a state office in Wisconsin at the age of 23, this legendary writer and editor had sent me a completely unexpected and rather generous contribution.
We met for my first lunch at the Palm, where I thanked him and sought his advice on what to expect next. He gave me such insightful advice that from that day I never made a career move without seeking and following his advice.
Many conservative writers and political activists of my generation were mentored over Bill’s decades in Washington. He introduced me around not as just a promising young kid, but as someone he believed should be taken seriously.
I was dumbfounded and grateful for his attention and kindness. He took young conservatives under his wing, encouraged us and gave us advice we could get nowhere else. He was a friend we could count on and he was always there for us.
To me he was that and more.
When our children were young, Bill and I took them to Florida to watch our favorite Major League teams prepare for their regular season travails. The Digest in those days had wonderful seats at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and later at Camden Yards.
As a Chicago White Sox fan, I sat in those seats for every Chicago/Baltimore series for about 30 years. Bill ended his days as a Washington Nationals fan, but earlier this summer, I got a couple of good seats in Baltimore so we could attend just one more of those games together. We drove to Baltimore sharing memories, enjoyed a good dinner, and sat together one last time to enjoy our favorite sport.
On the drive back to Washington we talked about what we had been through together, and at one point Bill said that he not only enjoyed the game, but wouldn’t be surprised if it was the last one he would ever attend. If it was and he didn’t get to another game before his death on Monday, I’m glad we were able to enjoy it as we had so many games in the past.
Bill Schulz will be missed by all those who knew him and whose lives he touched.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.