My pal Heidi Berenson (one of the premier media trainers, and she actually knows what she’s doing-unlike so many PR people who are good at pretending), called me to ask if I would do some voice training for a friend of hers. I was full time professor of communications at American University, but I loved to do hands on voice and articulation sessions on the side. “He’s a Republican”, she said. ” But he’s a great guy, brilliant but you should know, he works at the Washington Times” . Brilliant, I thought and he works and the Moonie paper. This is truly an oxymoron. However, I wanted to keep active in all my expertise (how’s that for a good reason to make some money - academia is not the place to get rich), so I asked what his voice problems were and I agreed to talk to him.
He called the next day. On the phone he sounded like he had a very tight throat and his pitch was a little high but surprisingly, he also sounded like a reasonable guy and he was incredibly personable and funny. Certainly not the kind of character you think about when you picture someone working for Reverend Moon. “What is it that you hope to accomplish”, I asked in the initial conversation. “I don’t like the way I sound”. He said. He also told me that he wanted to make that giant leap into electronic media. He, like me, probably wanted to make some money-which, as I said, you don’t do in academia or the newspaper business. He also mentioned in the nicest possible way, that he had once been a liberal or maybe a Marxist, and there was a time he had sported a pony tail, but he got a haircut and unlike Samson he got over it. We both laughed and I agreed to travel all the way to NE Washington to his office at the Times.
The next day I wandered through the Times newsroom and after a number of wrong turns, I found my way to the executive offices. Maybe I seemed a bit nervous, because the secretary asked me to sit down and assured me that no one would do any proselytizing before or after my meetings with the Editor. After about five minutes, the inner office door opened and out popped a remarkably tall, stunning, smiling, 40ish, clearly not a Moonie, seemingly charming guy. He grabbed my hand with one hand and gently grasped my arm with the other. “Heidi said you’re great, so I don’t want you to escape. Let’s go talk.”
It was my first of many meetings with Tony Snow, musician, speechwriter, White House Press Secretary and so much more. We worked on his voice for about six or eight months. Every meeting was a joy. “At one point I confessed that he was so cute– no one would notice how he sounded. But he still wanted to improve. He learned to hear the way his voice sounded, and never tired of the way I sounded when I harangued him about any mistakes. And he practiced all the exercises I gave him — there was progress every week. He confessed that he never liked his voice and even if he never got into TV (which he felt was unlikely-talk about determined), he really wanted to feel confident about the way he sounded. During the sessions we did vocal exercises that were loud and even silly. He was neither shy nor self conscious. He seemed to have fun with it and I had fun as well. Eventually, we talked politics and issues - couched as voice improvement 101, but we never had an angry or even confrontational encounter. And we got to be friends. In fact, when he went to the first Bush White House to write speeches he called and asked if I would do some voice and speech work with the President. He said something like, “this is not about politics — your country needs you.” I declined but I did agree to listen to some of the President’s speeches so I could tell Tony how to write for his voice pattern-not what, how. For example, I noticed that when Bush took a breath he lost his place in the speech text and wandered into areas that were probably not on the paper. “Write short sentences” I suggested… and he did and swore he would never tell anyone that I had helped him.
The lessons stopped but we remained friends. Every once in a while, I would listen to him on the TV or radio and call to say “you need a tune up pal” and remind him to open his throat or do his relaxation exercises– not easy when you’re in a high powered stressful job. We would talk about a range of issues, but he was so smart, it was hard to argue and win. Neither of us liked losing, so we agreed to disagree about those things upon which we knew we would never agree. There were times when he would meet an impressive young Democrat who needed a job or to make connections, and he would call me. And I reciprocated by introducing him to some of my remarkable young Republican students. He was always willing to help a young person find their way in the maze of Washington politics or media. He was always gracious and generous - no matter his personal success.
Tony Snow died yesterday after a multi-year year battle with colon cancer. He had such an indomitable spirit that I think-we all thought, he would beat it. There was no one-media or political or anyone who ever met him, who didn’t at least like him. You simply couldn’t help it. He was a patriot and a prince of a guy. There will always be a special place in my heart for my wonderful Republican pal. I am so very blessed to have known him and I, along with thousands of friends and acquaintances will miss him. I am so teary and saddened by this enormous loss. We're just sayin...