As you've probably seen by now, the great journalist and author David Halberstam died the other day, the victim of a car accident in California at the age of 73.
I've been a bit surprised to find that even the tributes by his friends and admirers (not to mention his non-admirers) make him sound like an insufferable schmuck.
My experience with Halberstam was different. In 1994, he was on a tour promoting his book October 1964 about the Yankees/Cardinals World Series. I was working at the all-sports radio station in St. Louis at the time, and wound up being his escort for his visit to the studio to appear on our airwaves. When it was over, as I was walking him out to catch his ride, I mentioned to him that I had really appreciated his book The Best and the Brightest, which we'd been required to read in a college course I'd had on the Vietnam War. I figured this was the kind of he probably heard everyday, but he seemed genuinely astonished.
"Really?" he asked. "What college?" I told him it was tiny Fontbonne College, just down the street from where we were standing.
"What was the teacher's name?" he asked, having now stopped walking and fully focused on me. I told him, and he enthusiastically replied, "That's great!" He pumped me for a few more tidbits. Halberstam is not usually described by anyone as a humble man. But his reaction that day struck me as one of humility. This legendary journalist was thrilled that our little college class of 15 people had read his best-known book.
For the few minutes I was with him, he seemed like a nice, even down-to-earth, man. I certainly didn't agree with most of his politics. But I enjoyed his writing and was saddened to hear of his violent death. I don't know why, but I would have been far less distressed had he simply keeled over of a heart attack. This somehow seems less dignified or fair.
Among others, Al Mohler offers a nice appreciation of David Halberstam today.