By andy Marso
WASHINGTON – A Royal typewriter, a Rolodex bursting with dog-eared cards, two notepads displaying hastily-scrawled, barely-legible writing, a Chicago Cubs coffee mug and a meticulously folded American flag were laid out on a table at David Broder’s memorial service.
It was a simple, unassuming tribute to a man who set the standard for political reporting for decades. By all accounts, that is exactly what he would have wanted.
Broder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and a University of Maryland journalism professor, died March 9 at age 81 of complications from diabetes. Hundreds of people Broder collaborated with, competed with and covered gathered Tuesday at the National Press Building to honor his professional tenacity and personal generosity.
“He was different than any other press person I’ve ever met,” Vice President Joe Biden said in one of four eulogies. “In all undertakings, in all professions, there’s some who just tower, whether it’s in baseball, politics, business or journalism. He was a towering figure.”
Broder was born in Illinois, attended the University of Chicago and served in the U.S. Army before beginning his professional career. From the Daily Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill., he rose to the Washington Star, the New York Times and the Post, where he covered more than four decades of presidential campaigns.
Broder’s knack for divining the political mood of the nation by traveling tirelessly to talk to voters helped him win the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary in 1973. He wrote or co-wrote eight books, including “The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point,” which he penned with the help of Post colleague and University of Maryland professor Haynes Johnson.
When Broder joined Johnson at Maryland in 2001, Thomas Kunkel, the dean of the journalism school called him “The nation’s most respected political journalist.”
That respect was evident Tuesday. Broder was eulogized by Washington Post CEO Don Graham and PBS journalist Gwen Ifill, while their print and broadcast colleagues looked on. Before the ceremony, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chatted with current Secretary of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano. Former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd later joined them in the front row.
The other side of the aisle was fronted by Broder’s family, including his wife of 59 years, Ann Creighton Collar, and their four sons, George, Matthew, Mike and Josh.
George Broder talked about a long-ago morning when he was too sick to handle his paper route and well-known Washington Post columnist David Broder filled in for him, delivering the Post house-to-house.
Washington Post political correspondent Dan Balz talked about grabbing dinner with Broder before covering a Republican National Convention at a restaurant that had a three-piece band. As they were about to leave, Broder turned to the musicians and said, “My head tells me to go to the convention, but my feet want to stay here and boogie.”
Still, politics were always on Broder’s mind — politics and family. He blended the two in a postcard he sent to his then 5-year-old son Matthew while reporting in Texas. The postcard featured a picture of three basset hound puppies. On the back Broder wrote, “Do you like these puppies? These puppies are sad. Do you know why they are sad? They lost their oil depletion allowances.”
For all his accolades, Broder was humble, as evidenced by the inscription of his words that lined the inside of the memorial program.
“I would like to see us say — over and over, until the point has been made,” Broder wrote. “That the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours — distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the very process of compression that makes it possible for you to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour. If we labeled the product accurately, then we could immediately add: But it’s the best we could do under the circumstances, and we will be back tomorrow with a corrected and updated version.”