In 1988, as a new kid in Washington and having read William Raspberry’s columns for several years, I called him at his Washington Post office. I told him I was new in town and found myself in charge of a very high profile event honoring some African-American family champions. I said, “Mr. Raspberry, I’m white and I’m from Kansas. I can’t help that. But I don’t want to do anything stupid or embarrass anyone. So I’m asking you to help me.” He laughed and said, “Come on over and have lunch with me.”
I found a true friend that day. We talked long and deep, exploring some of the deep caves of the human experience. The event was a success, in large part because of his coaching. More than that, he became my tutor; he helped me understand and navigate the Washington mirages, whirlpools, and smoke.
Our friendship was a measure of his character. He was a well known and respected Washington figure and I could not help him or hurt him; he did not need to give me anything. But he gave generously and continued to do so for a quarter century.
Over the next seven years, we met often for breakfast, lunch, or in his office. Nothing changed when he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Bill was fairly liberal in his politics; I was fairly conservative. But the political chasm was never an issue. We discussed our differing perspectives with no fear of ridicule or polarization. He, a liberal, often encouraged me to submit my more conservative perspectives for publication.
When we left Washington in 1995, Bill was one of the few Washington friends who kept in touch. In 1997, he interviewed me for one of his columns. After that, he interviewed me three or four more times. Bill is a primary reason I was accepted as a writer.
In the past 17 years, I never went back to Washington without seeing Bill. We always met for long lunches and honest conversations. He was one of the most honest people I ever met. Every spoken or written word that came from Bill Raspberry was true. You could trust it; it came from an honest heart.
The last time I saw him was for a two hour lunch on October 24, 2011, the 67th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Princeton (my dad’s ship). Bill and I talked about our fathers that day. As I told one story about Dad, I wept. Bill’s eyes grew red and he just silently nodded. It was a classic Bill Raspberry moment; pure empathy and deep respect for the secret places. When we parted, he hugged me. I felt a chill in the air as I walked to my car.
A few weeks ago, he stopped replying to emails. I knew he was sick; I asked when we could talk. He did not respond. His silence concerned me deeply.
For two weeks I’ve felt like I should call. But I was busy. Bill died yesterday.
I am forever grateful that this great man’s path crossed through my life. I cherish the memories of Bill’s great kindness, humor, generosity, and care.
Two years ago, he told me that he had prostate cancer. He wanted to talk about God that day. Every time we met after that, our conversation always came back to God. I tried to help; I do not know if I did. But I’m confident that someday Bill will tell me. He is unfailingly honest.