Bob Novak (1931-2009), The Last Reporter

My father Richard Whalen was a long time friend and contemporary of Robert Novak, whose funeral is tomorrow in Washington.  I knew Bob and his family growing up in Washington and even went on some memorable fishing trips off of Ocean City, MD.   Dad wrote the following remembrance of Bob earlier this week.  — Chris

By Richard Whalen

I knew Bob Novak for almost fifty years.  I first met him in Washington, D.C. when he was a member of the Wall Street Journal Washington’s bureau and I was a New York based Wall Street Journal editorial writer assigned to write an editorial page article on Republican politics.  Bob, defending his Washington turf, asked me what I was doing in DC.  After shouting at each other, we had a drink and then another and a third and by that time, Bob helped me outline my piece.  We became great friends – best friends.

As the media elite emerged as part of Washington’s permanent government in the 1970s, Bob was at the center of it, but he resisted the social phoniness like a true son of the working class from Joliet, IL.  He was determined to keep the realistic perspective of his father, an intelligent small businessman who was quietly proud of his celebrated son. .Bob was in the special category occupied earlier by Arthur Krock, David Lawrence and Walter Lippmann. He was not a pundit but a hard-nosed, hard-working, shoe leather reporter whose sources ranged wider and deeper than anybody else’s. He distilled truth from depths of fresh reporting.

When I operated my international news service corporation from K Street and Connecticut Avenue in DC, I was always on Bob’s call list daily between 6:30 – 7:30 AM from 1969-1991. In our conversations, quite deliberately, Bob would steer the conversation around the periphery of the day’s main news, asking questions, offering brilliant comments.

For example, we conspired to advance the presidential candidacy of former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Bob was extremely close to Representative Jack Kemp, the supply-side, tax-cutting hero who once hoped to take the nomination from Reagan. I helped Bob see Kemp in a more realistic way and we worked closely to advance Reagan’s superior claim to the presidency.

In 1980, when CNN made a major commitment to Washington, Bob opened the door for me to appear on Crossfire and Capital Gang and other political programs. We worked very closely to get people on television to advance Reagan’s candidacy. In spite of his television celebrity, he maintained his integrity

When I bought the 7th precinct police station in Georgetown in 1979 and turned it into my home, Bob confessed that before he had married his wife, Geraldine, he had been arrested in Georgetown for speeding back from a girlfriend’s apartment in Maryland and had spent a night in the basement jail cells of my new home. Pat Buchanan also turned out to be another alumnus of my landmark jail.

We liked to go fishing out of Ocean City Maryland. It was a time to be totally away from all the stress of living and working in Washington.  Once, we caught a vast trove of bluefish and Bob insisted on having them all cleaned and freezer-prepped.  “I hate to waste food,” roared Bob laughing.

John Podhoretz in the New York Times (8/18/09) quotes Bob:

“I’m seventy-three years old and would like to leave some legacy. Nobody will remember my newspaper columns or television appearances. They won’t remember me for my writing. … I have a Novak scholarship fund in perpetuity, and I am the founder and chair for writing at the University of Illinois. That is how I want to be remembered.”

Podhoretz then later asked: “If that was his desire for his legacy, how did he see his future?”   Two years ago Bob told an audience: “I’m 76 years old, and pretty soon I’m going to a place where there are no blogs.”

I will miss him – the world will never see his like again.  He thought clearly, spoke forcefully and maintained his professional detachment. For me, his legacy is that he was an effective advocate of modern conservativism and an exemplar of honest journalism.

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