My dear Charles, a gentle­man scholar

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - ▶ kath­leen­park­er­wash­post.com

Charles Krautham­mer, a man who has beaten un­be­liev­able odds and over­come ob­sta­cles that would de­feat most mor­tals, has fi­nally en­coun­tered one foe over which he says he can’t claim vic­tory.

In a note to read­ers Fri­day, he an­nounced that he has only a few weeks to live fol­low­ing a bat­tle with can­cer.

The no­bil­ity with which Charles has con­ducted his life was as-ever ap­par­ent in his brief note. With his cus­tom­ary writer’s con­ci­sion and his physi­cian’s pre­ci­sion, he ex­plained his cir­cum­stances with­out sen­ti­men­tal­ity. A tu­mor had been re­moved from his ab­domen early on, he re­ported, and though his prospects for re­cov­ery had seemed good for a while, the can­cer re­turned and is mov­ing rapidly.

Most peo­ple don’t get to say good­bye and al­most none as elo­quently. He thanked all who have helped him along the way, in­clud­ing col­leagues as well as his read­ers and tele­vi­sion view­ers, “who have made my ca­reer pos­si­ble and given con­se­quence to my life’s work.”

In the fi­nal two para­graphs, Charles summed up his life and prin­ci­ples: “I be­lieve that the pur­suit of truth and right ideas through hon­est de­bate and rig­or­ous ar­gu­ment is a no­ble un­der­tak­ing. I am grate­ful to have played a small role in the con­ver­sa­tions that have helped guide this ex­tra­or­di­nary na­tion’s destiny.

“I leave this life with no re­grets. It was a won­der­ful life — full and com­plete with the great loves and great en­deav­ors that make it worth liv­ing. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowl­edge that I lived the life that I in­tended.”

Any­one read­ing those words must be think­ing the same: I hope I can say that some­day. Of course, some­day is any day, as Charles learned at 22 when a div­ing ac­ci­dent left him par­a­lyzed from the neck down.

Un­de­terred, he com­pleted med­i­cal school and be­came a psy­chi­a­trist. Charles later re­counted that pro­fes­sors came to his room and pro­jected his lessons on the ceil­ing over the bed where he lay.

He went to work in government and then po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary, cast­ing a dis­pas­sion­ate eye on the world around us. Whether in writ­ing or on TV, it never seemed that Charles had a per­sonal ax to grind. Be­tween his calm de­meanor and a prob­ing in­tel­lect, he seemed most like an an­thro­pol­o­gist re­mark­ing upon the fas­ci­nat­ing be­hav­iors of an in­dige­nous peo­ple.

I was a reg­u­lar Krautham­mer reader be­fore I knew him. I ad­mired him not only be­cause I of­ten agreed with him but be­cause of his inim­itable style and the flow of his logic. There are very few writ­ers, much less doc­tors, who can write with the art­ful­ness that Charles brought to his col­umn. Nor are there many de­baters who could match wits with him.

When I think of Charles, sev­eral fond mem­o­ries come to mind. First, he is a con­sum­mate gentle­man. He is also warm, af­fec­tion­ate and funny. Once when we were both in the White House to­ward the end of the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, he said to me, “We bet­ter en­joy this, be­cause I have a feel­ing it’ll be the last time we’ll see the in­side of this place.” Barack Obama had just been elected.

As it turned out, we did see each other in­side the White House again not long af­ter when Obama in­vited us, among oth­ers, to an off-the-record meet­ing. I re­mem­ber noth­ing about it other than Charles’ wry smile, the one that of­ten found his face and al­lowed him to say ev­ery­thing with­out ut­ter­ing a word.

An­other time we were both in­vited to the White House, I was stalled at the se­cu­rity gate, un­able to con­vince the guards that I should be al­lowed to pass. As I was about to leave in frus­tra­tion, Charles pulled up in his van, winked at me and said to the guard, who ob­vi­ously knew Charles well: “She’s with me.” Call­ing out to me, he said, “C’mon, I’ll give you a ride.”

I was as tick­led as any girl’s ever been when the coolest guy in the class shows her the slight­est at­ten­tion. This is how I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber you, Charles, if you’re read­ing this — as the smartest, hand­somest, most dig­ni­fied gentle­man and scholar ever to wield a pen in the pur­suit of truth and right ideas.

It is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that you are soon to leave us, but I’m not at all sur­prised that God would need a good shrink.

“I leave this life with no re­grets. It was a won­der­ful life — full and com­plete with the great loves and great en­deav­ors that make it worth liv­ing. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowl­edge that I lived the life that I in­tended.” —Charles Krautham­mer

KATH­LEEN Parker

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