Former New York Times columnist William Safire died Sunday at age 79. The club of newspaper columnists is a small one, even smaller given the chronic state of the newspaper industry. Most of us know one another and I had the privilege of knowing Bill Safire a little.-- I always took extra care when I wrote to him because he was a language expert as his weekly New York Times magazine column attested.
Our last exchanges occurred when I told him about a new book on language to be released in Britain. He hadn’t heard about it and assured me he would get it. Just a few days later he sent me an e-mail, complimenting me on a column I had written about the Middle East.
Though Bill wrote hard-hitting speeches for Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, in person he was gracious and kind. And he was one of the last reporter-columnists, usually digging out his own information, which made him a must-read.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, a rarity for a conservative in a medium dominated by liberals. It used to bug some of us that he had the telephone number of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his farm. Bill would sometimes call Sharon there and get an exclusive.
Bill Safire was a gentleman. It is a cliche to say someone will be missed. But journalism will miss Bill Safire. It is a loss the profession will not be able to replace.
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated newspaper columnist and a FOX News contributor.