If there is something you would like to do, don’t put it off. Do it right away. Don’t wake up one morning and say, “Why didn’t I do that when I thought about it?” Last week I wrote about my pal Stewart Mott. He was a great friend who helped me through some very tough times. Yesterday I saw in the New York Times that he had passed away. Just in case you missed it I’d like to share some of the parts I think he would have liked the best. Some of it is quoted directly and with some I took a little liberty.
(Stewart was) a philanthropist whose gifts to progressive and somewhat offbeat causes were often upstaged by his eccentricities... Irreverent, good-looking and effusive, Mr. Mott seemed tailor made for the 60’s and 70’s... Mr. Mott seemed to relish poking his finger I the eye of GM, a company that is father helped to shape (and was later the largest stockholder.) Mr. Mott officially told the election commission that his job was “maverick”. He listed himself as “philanthropist” in the Manhattan phone book – he preferred ‘avant-garde philanthropist’ but space was limited... In 1971 he told the New Yorker that his “philanthropy is hearty, robust and full-bodied but it still needs a few years of aging before it will develop fully”... When the Washington Post reported that he had slept with 40 women over an eight month period, he issued a correction saying it was only 20.
Despite the relationship to GM when Stewart drove, it was usually a Volkswagen. Additionally, he gave me a Volkswagen as a gift in 1977. I had just been appointed as the Director of the International Visitors Program at the State Department. Because I was a new Carter appointee and one of the youngest people in such a high level job, I had a parking space in the building. (This was a real perk). I was new to Washington ways and the job, and naïve doesn’t begin to describe my expectations. Anyway, The Washington Post, which actually did good gossip in those days, wrote a piece about the car/gift. I was mortified, maybe horrified when Stewart called me to say he had seen the piece and thought it wonderful that I had become the “talk of the town” at such an early stage in my international career. He convinced me not only to laugh about it but to understand that this was the kind of thing that gave you access to a Washington that could actually be fun.
Stewart had been battling cancer for years. I knew he was sick and I thought about him quite frequently. I wanted to talk to him, but time passed and I was lazy about locating him. We reconnected a few weeks ago. He wasn’t strong enough to come to the phone the first time I called so I left a message. Within minutes he called me back. He shared that he might have to beg off but he did want to catch up. We had a number of phone calls where we talked about old times, parties at the Trust, Bermuda trips, vacations, the kids, what was going on in our lives and, of course, the election. He did ask my indulgence on a number of calls when he felt too weak to go on, but his spirit was never weak—just his body.
The last time we talked he asked if I could come and see him. I had only one or two days left before I had to go to Boston, DC, and Seattle. I very much wanted to see him and I promised him I would call and come up as soon as I got back in the middle of June. He said I could take the train, and since neither of us had our Volkswagens anymore, he would send someone to pick me up at the station. The calls were loving and affectionate, and I was looking forward to my return so we could finally get together. But he didn’t live long enough for me to take the Metro North to what I think was the Mott estate in Westchester.
What a dope I was. I should have gotten on the train and gone when I had a few hours. After all those years of absence and finally reconnecting, I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dear friend.
I always used to say that I didn’t want to die on a plane where someone more famous than myself was killed because the reports would be “Mr/Ms famous was killed today) and there would be a long glorious obit at the end of which would be, “also dead...”
So I don’t mean to slight him in anyway, but Tim Russert also died yesterday. I knew Tim for many years but we weren’t friends. He was a great guy who made the transition from political staff to reporter without having told insider secrets and without having to throw anyone he worked for under a bus. He was smart, articulate, full of humor and insightful about life and the world. There are hundreds of people who are much more qualified to talk about Tim than I. Although they were certainly very different, Tim and Stewart did share a love of politics, justice and this country. The world lost two great souls yesterday. May they both rest in peace (Stewart always wanted peace).