At last, getting to know the ‘Fat Man in the Middle’

[cleeng_content id="275702463" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]It took this son of Baltimore moving to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia to finally meet Jack Germond, the Sun’s famed political columnist.

I faithfully read Germond and his writing partner Jules Witcover regularly on the Sun’s editorial page for decades and when I started working for the Sun in the early 1990s, I always hoped I might run into him in the hallway at the newspaper’s offices on Calvert Street when I’d drop off the editorial cartoons I drew each week for the paper’s zoned suburban editions, but I never did.

When I finally met Germond in October at his Kabletown home for a political story for the Spirit, he told me it was unlikely we’d have ever crossed paths in Baltimore — he spent most of his time at the Sun’s D.C. office and only came to that office when summoned.

My meeting with him was arranged by Edna King, his neighbor and my real estate agent. When I learned Germond lived in Jefferson County I thought how neat it might be to get some ruminations about the upcoming election and of the state of politics in general from a man who’d spent his life thinking about such things.

Germond didn’t disappoint.

He spent hours that October day with me and reporter Christine Miller Ford reminiscing and doing what he did the best — opining on the issues of the day, and colorfully. Afterwards he was kind enough to step out onto his back deck that overlooks the lazy Shenandoah and let me snap portraits of him and his wife Alice.Drawin

(His observations also turned out to be on the money. At a time when many were predicting President Obama would lose or at least a razor-thin victory for the Democrat, Germond’s prediction was that most voters didn’t feel any warmth for Mitt Romney (whom he described as a “bad candidate” who wasn’t acting with conviction) and wouldn’t vote for him.)

Germond passed away at his home in the early-morning hours on Aug. 14, hours after we had put last week’s Spirit to bed, about the time the papers were likely being loaded onto the truck in Cumberland, Md. By the time I arrived at the office at mid-morning, the story of his death was already on the websites of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Soon, journalists and readers alike were singing Germond’s praises. Tim Crouse, who famously wrote about Germond and other old-school political writers in his chronicle of the 1972 presidential campaign, “The Boys on the Bus,” said: “He was not simply drawn to journalism as a profession; like Hildy Johnson in ‘[The] Front Page,’ he was addicted to it as a way of life.”

Said Walter Mears, the former Associated Press reporter: “Before politics was fed into computers and moveable maps came out, Jack Germond had it all in his head.”

When I checked my work email, I saw one sent around 7:20 a.m. from Alice with the subject line, “Jack’s Gone” and discovered that I’d been included among a short list of friends and journalism colleagues given the first word of his passing.

“At a little before 4 am this morning Jack passed away,” she wrote. “He went peacefully and quickly after just completing this novel, a tale he had pondered while writing columns, campaign books, a memoir and covering our politics and politicians. He lived a marvelous, full and well loved life.

“I think he was a great reporter, I know he was a hearty eater and the good conversation as important as the food. And yes, he enjoyed extending an evening. He had a bold journalistic ethic, and that matters. He was fortunate to spend his life working at a job he would have done for free during some halcyon times in the newspaper business.

“Jack indeed played the horses always studying the form and hoping for that elusive triple crown winner – but there was no such thing as a bad day at the track. He welcomed the day sitting on our deck in West Virginia watching the bald eagles who returned to soar over the Shenandoah and the bluebird’s nest. In the evening the sunset mirroring the day’s end.

“To his many friends, he appreciated the great company, story, scoop, competition and laughter. He fit his life and times so very well. I love him and it’s been great.”

Reading that, of course, sent me thinking about the warm fall afternoon Christine and I spent with him and Alice – a perfect complement to Jack, equal parts kind and insightful – and I immediately landed on two memories.

After patiently answering all our questions for the story on the Obama-Romney race, Germond and I got to talking about column writing.

He left me with one bit of sage advice that went something that like — Don’t sound too authoritative; let the reader feel like you’re talking to them, not lecturing at them. One would think someone who writes a book titled “Fat Man in the Middle” would have no concerns about sounding too authoritative.

Still on the subject of column writing, I summoned the audacity to ask Germond if he’d ever consider writing for the Spirit of Jefferson’s editorial page.

How much will you pay me, he asked.

Twenty-five dollars and not a penny more, I said.

OK, he replied.

And that’s how Jack Germond, deep into his retiring years agreed to allow this little weekly in Charles Town to be the vehicle by which he continued to impart his thoughts to the universe.

Last week, Alice responded to a condolence note I’d sent, thanking me for reaching out to her. “I know he was impressed at your interest in building a real newspaper and had fun sharing some adventures with you,” she wrote.

To have finally made the acquaintance of a journalism icon, to have been on the list of people to say they published Jack Germond’s observations and to know one of journalism’s best thought we were on the right track here – somehow the word “grateful” doesn’t quite cover it.[/cleeng_content]

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