By J.Michael Willard
Life, it seems, goes by with the frenzied flutter of a Hummingbird’s wing.This came home to me with the death of an old friend.
His name was Tom Raum and many might remember his byline as a White House correspondent for the Associated Press. He died Jan. 25 from head trauma received in a fall at his home outside DC.
Tom and I met in our early 20s. The Vietnam War was going strong. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were still alive, though neither were to survive this particular year. It was the twin traumas of 1968.
We were going to light up the world with brilliant novels and insightful reporting that sent bad guys to jail and freed the oppressed. Write we did — sufficient words to fill a “Gone With the Wind” and dozens of sequels.
The fact that there were no Pulitzers or best selling novels to come is merely a footnote to lives, not the headline. We worked in the brackish backwaters of the famous, the far-reaching and often the fatuous, chronicling history as we saw it.
That’s what mattered. Getting it right. Getting it true. It was a time before a term such as fake news became neon lit, and no one could comprehend decades later a reality show/pretend businessman becoming President.
When Donald Trump did become President and I mounted my usual partisan high horse, Tom, the patient one, reached out to me on Facebook to take a wait and see attitude.
In the end, with Trump and his cat’s cradle of lies, his patience had worn thin.
Tom Raum spent a career in wire service work, first in Tallahassee, then DC. On the other hand, my restless soul saw me in wire service, then politics, and then international business. Eventually, I came full-circle as a newspaper executive in Eastern Europe.
It came as a shock to me, those words “Tom has died” posted by his wife Nora on Tom’s Facebook page. I was accustomed to hearing from Nora many mornings. She is a newscaster on National Public Radio to which I tune.
Tom was 74 — not a long-life in modern terms — but surely one of substance and meaning. I know this because we were brothers in news, starting out about the same time on the long-gone Tampa Times.
The afternoon newspaper was dying even when Tom and I worked there, the fate of many such dailies. Gone was the 1950s version of the American man who came home, propped himself in an easy chair, and read the evening news with faithful Fido at his side.
The old timers on the Tampa Times — most Korean War veterans — knew its days were numbered when some marketing wise-guy suggested the paper feature reporters as significant personalities — like most local television stations do today.
It’s done. Stick a fork in it, said Tom Englis, who was the toughest son-of-a-gun reporter I ever met. Charlie Robins, the daily humor columnist, did what he did best. He created satire around it.
Bob Turner, who taught me being nice to news sources gets you more informed and better stories than bluster, just smiled about it.
That was oh, so long ago. The Tampa Times, I have been told, was the last newspaper to go from a nickel to a dime, and then it folded. Tom and I had left years before, and Raum was settled in for good at AP.
We were, though, the young guns on Doyle Harvill’s “ball team”, as he called us. Harvill was mentor and editor. He could have been snatched from the stage of the 1928 comedy “Front Page”. Doyle was tough and gruff and we loved him.
Tom and I took different paths in wire service reporting. He went AP and I United Press International. He retired two years ago, and appeared happy managing a stock portfolio, and keeping up with old friends.
As White House correspondent, Tom had a storied career, flying around on Air Force One with Presidents and chronicling the daily humdrum as well as the excitement of high officialdom.
I last saw Tom two years ago, though we communicated often on social media.
My wife and I had dinner with Tom and Nora at Joe Theisman’s restaurant in Alexandria, Va. We talked over old times, and how we had both dressed up as pirates during Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival on reporting assignments.
We had dinner, drinks and laughed a lot.
I am told by reliable sources that we all die. But I hate like hell when life-long friends die, and Tom was a good one.