Book re­view: The Joe Ty­d­ings we all thought we knew — or, life among the swells


”My Life in Pro­gres­sive Pol­i­tics: Against the Grain” by Joseph D. Ty­d­ings with John W. Frece, Fore­word by Joe Bi­den, Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas: Texas A & M Univer­sity Press, $ 29.95, 2018

In 1970, re­port­edly, thenMary­land US Sen. Joe Ty­d­ings lost his seat at least par­tially due to an al­legedly dis­parag­ing re­mark about Dun­dalk he made else­where in the Free State.

Okay, so, let’s get right to it: if you read but one po­lit­i­cal au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in the next 10 years, make it this one, for sure!

And don’t rush your read­ing, but in­stead take your time, sa­vor­ing ev­ery sin­gle word, no mat­ter how long it takes — it’ll be worth it, for it’s that good, re­ally! I can’t say enough good things about this fine his­tor­i­cal work.

In­deed, it would take 10 re­views of it, and still jus­tice wouldn’t be fully done to it, even with its flaws!

Hav­ing known about the sub­ject since 1970, I thought that I had a pretty good han­dle on him, but no more! This ex­cep­tional tome pro­vides read­ers with knowl­edge all about the man be­fore, dur­ing, and af­ter that date, right up to now.

That man is one I didn’t know of at all, and I sus­pect that the very same will be true of most read­ers also. This well-crafted, dual-writ­ten work is sev­eral ter­rific vol­umes: Maryland, United States, and world his­tory all rolled into one.

It’s told with a first per­son, you-are-there, fly-on-the-wall im­me­di­acy, in a lit­tle-held­back per­sonal mem­oir that grabs the reader in the very first para­graph on page one--and then never lets go. What a wild ride it is, too! Aside from Clans Ty­d­ings, Kennedys, Davies, Posts, Hut­tons, and Trumps, the book presents de­tailed ac­counts of life among the swells in gen­eral: mar­riages, di­vorces, af­fairs of state and of heart, pala­tial es­tates, fox hunts, manor houses, swanky lux­ury apart­ments, gated com­mu­ni­ties, and a great four-mast ves­sel sail­ing the globe; merg­ers, elec­tions at all lev­els of govern­ment, law­suits, in­dict­ments, “horse cra­zies,” fancy dress cos­tume balls, gala din­ners, and all man­ner of other, up­per crust folderol — it’s all here.

On the more sub­stan­tive level — and de­scribed in riv­et­ing de­tail as well — are as­sas­si­na­tions, state and fed­eral crim­i­nal cases tried in open court, an ear­lier Sav­ings & Loan scan­dal prior to that of 1986, bribery, cor­rup­tion, etc., as viewed from the per­spec­tive of both an elected of­fi­cial and as U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bobby Kennedy’s hand-picked US At­tor­ney for Maryland. Joseph Davies Ty­d­ings, still liv­ing at age 89.

One high­light oc­curred when JDT called as a sur­prise wit­ness for the pros­e­cu­tion the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the United State to a shocked fed­eral court­room in down­town Bal­ti­more that led ul­ti­mately to the con­vic­tions of two con­gress­men.

Just a few years later, both RFK and JDT sat side by side as back­bench elected U.S. se­na­tors in the wake of the mur­der of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, a seis­mic turn­ing point in both their lives.

As a bi­og­ra­pher my­self, I’m amazed that our sub­ject waited un­til he was 85 to start on this in­cred­i­bly en­gag­ing epic, and I’m glad that he didn’t dither any longer.

Born May 4, 1928, Joe Ty­d­ings loved the out­doors and was an athlete for most of his first half-life: a lacrosse starter at his beloved Univer­sity of Maryland — at which he’s been al­most con­tin­u­ously ac­tive dur­ing 1948 to 2018 — and play­ing on a U.S. Se­nate ten­nis team that beat a GOP team led by the late for­mer vice pres­i­dent, fel­low Mary­lan­der Spiro Agnew.

As his 1964 Se­nate brochure touted, Joe Ty­d­ings had al­ready “Crossed the At­lantic eight times” by then. Hav­ing lunched in West Ger­many with Willy Brandt and Walt Dis­ney — “I was amazed at how much had been built since 1946” (when he’d served there un­der Gen. Ge­orge Pat­ton as part of the Amer­i­can Army of Oc­cu­pa­tion, tak­ing care of 37 horses as part of the Army’s last cav­alry unit ever.)

JDT jour­neyed to Red Poland, not­ing, “I was im­pressed how deep was the Poles’ ha­tred of Com­mu­nism,” and as a young U.S. sen­a­tor — only 36 — his new staff, “Churned out press re­leases on al­most a daily ba­sis.”

Author of the 1970 tome “Born to Starve,” this lat­est lit­er­ary ef­fort fea­tures not only a great se­lec­tive bib­li­og­ra­phy, but also de­tailed and very in­for­ma­tive foot­notes that are — if any­thing — even bet­ter than the main text, and I’ve read them all.

His per­sonal anec­dotes are telling, sin­cere, and grip­ping, such as this on the mur­dered John F. Kennedy af­ter Dal­las: “The Pres­i­dent was some­one who’d slept in my home…He’d eaten din­ner at my ta­ble, seated be­tween my wife and my mother. He and his won­der­ful fam­ily had be­come real friends…He was my most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal bene­fac­tor…We had cam­paigned side by side. Had he not been as­sas­si­nated, I might’ve run un­op­posed for the U.S. Se­nate in 1964.”

When he did get there, Ty­d­ings was, “Some­one con­sid­ered as close to be­ing a Kennedy as any­one in the Se­nate not named Kennedy.” That proved to be a dou­ble-edged sword, how­ever, get­ting him in it in ’64, but also helped get him out six years later, when he lost his bid for re­elec­tion.

It didn’t help, ei­ther, that by then he was hav­ing a here-ad­mit­ted af­fair on his first wife with the later sec­ond, who — he as­serts — “per­suaded” him to run against his for­mer cam­paigner who de­feated him in his ’76 bid to re­turn to Capi­tol Hill. The sec­ond wife doesn’t even rate a name here, though, while the third also isn’t noted as a spouse af­ter 1999, ac­cord­ing to an on­line ci­ta­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, the for­mer Free State li­mou­sine lib­eral of the six­ties re-emerges in this vol­ume’s ti­tle as the pro­gres­sive of the still young 21st cen­tury, with his pic­ture along with Bobby Kennedy nicely ty­ing in the now 50th an­niver­sary of the lat­ter’s slay­ing.

Most of Sen. Ty­d­ings’ pub­lic ca­reer was spent in lawyer­ing, not leg­is­lat­ing, but I ad­mit that his riv­et­ing ac­counts of our var­i­ous lev­els of courts made me read more about them than I’ve ever done pre­vi­ously, bar none.

Here’s but one splen­did sam­ple: “The fed­eral court­rooms where we plied our trade as pros­e­cu­tors were al­ways full of col­or­ful wit­nesses, zany de­fen­dants, celebrity lawyers, un­re­pen­tant gam­blers, politi­cians un­der stress (and some­times their an­gry or weep­ing wives), clear-eyed fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors, tax cheaters, bank rob­bers and car thieves, ex­perts in such ar­cane top­ics as hand­writ­ing, wise and thought­ful judges, and even piti­ful kid­nap­pers and mur­der­ers. In those court­rooms, we were wit­nesses to a car­ni­val of life.”

As, in­deed, are we read­ers of this com­pelling work, in­clud­ing such fas­ci­nat­ing tid­bits as this, bring­ing the story right up to the present day. This re­gards a prop­erty once owned by the Ty­d­ings’-re­lated Post clan in Florida, bought by re­al­tor mogul Don­ald Trump in 1985. This is the much cel­e­brated Mar-a-Lago, trans­lated from the Latin into English as From Sea to Lake, re­fer­ring to the es­tate’s ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion on a barrier is­land be­tween Lake Worth and the At­lantic Ocean.

In ad­di­tion, this broad­based saga in­cludes 55 ter­rific black-and-white il­lus­tra­tions from pri­vate Ty­d­ings fam­ily and other unique pho­to­graphic sources.

In con­clu­sion — be­sides my own ti­tles — this is the book I’ll be giv­ing for Christ­mas presents in fu­ture!

Re­viewer Blaine Tay­lor went door-to-door In Go­vans, Bal­ti­more for then US Sen. Ty­d­ings’ 1970 re­elec­tion, cov­ered two of his events later as a re­porter, in­ter­viewed him one-on-one the next year for the Tow­son State Col­lege stu­dent news­pa­per Tow­erlight, and ob­served his ’76 Se­nate elec­tion ef­fort in Dun­dalk.

Blaine Tay­lor has been an Ea­gle con­trib­u­tor since 1974.

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