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Published: Monday, 12/3/2012

COMMENTARY

A tribute to Jim Brennan; recalling McGovern’s visit

BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST

A special tribute to one of Toledo’s best-known political figures, the late Jim Brennan, opened recently at the main branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown. Political junkies and anybody else interested in Toledo history will find it fascinating.

The exhibition features letters to Mr. Brennan from the high and mighty, newspaper clippings about his memorable political battles as Mr. Republican in a Democratic town, plus several Blade editorial cartoons drawn by Kirk Walters, and before him, cartoonist Ed Ashley.

Also part of the display is a video interview with Mr. Brennan’s daughter, Christine, a onetime Blade intern and now a sports columnist for USA Today.

It was my pleasure to interview Chris, who has never forgotten her Toledo and Ottawa Hills roots and fully credits her dad and her mom, Betty, for starting her on her path to success as one of America’s best-known journalists. One of her books, Best Seat in the House, relates the special relationship she had with her father.

Three of the Brennan kids — Chris, Kate, and Jim, Jr. — hosted an opening reception for the exhibition. Daughter Amy had to miss the event and had the perfect Jim Brennan excuse: She was otherwise occupied as a soccer mom at a competition in Virginia, where she lives with her family. A huge sports fan, he would have understood completely.

But, as Kate joked, her dad would have taken note that “there aren’t any cigars here,” a loving reference to Mr. Brennan’s fondness for the occasional stogie.

Prominent Republicans present and past showed up in a gesture of respect for the man who helped shape their political careers or influenced them profoundly. State Sen. Mark Wagoner, state Reps. Barbara Sears and Randy Gardner, former state Rep. Lynn Olman, and Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou were among them. So was a woman who sought and won the job as Toledo’s first female mayor, Donna Owens.

You can see the exhibit through the end of December.

● ● ●

Thanks to observant readers, our supply of newspaper headlines with unintended meanings never runs dry. With a tip of the baseball cap to Richard Kerger, here are a few I hadn’t seen before:

“17 remain dead in morgue shooting spree.” Isn’t that like double jeopardy or something?

“Homicide victims refuse to talk to police.” Even when you’re dead, you’d rather not get involved.

“Marijuana issue sent to joint committee.” Hey, who better to separate the weed from the chaff?

“Bugs flying around with wings are flying bugs.” Suddenly, ichthyology seems so simple.

“Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement.” Time to get back to basics: M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

“Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons.” These guys are armed and dangerous.

“Diana was still alive hours before she died.” At last, the truth comes out.

Finally, an oldie but goodie: “One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers.” Maybe he should just give them a hearty shout-out.

● ● ●

The death of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern in October caused Americans to recall a man forever marked by his humiliating loss to Richard Nixon in 1972. He didn’t just lose — he was crushed, even losing his own state of South Dakota. But there was more to the man than the anti-war message at the heart of his campaign.

Entitled to a measure of bitterness, especially after the events of President Nixon’s second term unfolded, Senator McGovern instead turned his time and energy to constructive initiatives. Among other things, he partnered with an old senatorial adversary, Robert Dole, to push for expansion of America’s school lunch program for disadvantaged children around the world.

Let me add my own anecdote.

Eight years or so ago, we learned that Senator McGovern was planning a Toledo appearance. We got in touch and arranged for him to join us on The Editors on WGTE-TV. On the day of the taping, we got a call from him. He was running late and didn’t want us to worry, assuring us he was on his way.

I could hear traffic noise and asked him where he was. “I’m at a pay phone in Bowling Green,” he said.

The man who had run for the presidency of the United States, the man who had attempted to become the most important leader on the planet, had no cell phone, no bodyguard, and no driver. He was driving himself to Toledo and had sought a phone booth — no easy task — to reassure us. Our interview remains one of my best memories from The Editors.

Senator McGovern probably was the wrong man at the wrong time in 1972. But of all the public figures it was my privilege and honor to meet, he was the kindest and most considerate. George Herbert Walker Bush was a close second.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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