“Man’s God leans toward order,
God’s Man leans toward chaos,
and the tension in that eternal tug-of-war
generates the energy of freedom”
—William Safire
From The First Dissident:
The Book of Job In Today’s Politics

—– and printed in the program for Friday’s Memorial Service

On Friday morning, University Hall in Washington’s University Club was filled with people —family, friends, colleagues, admirers— gathered for “A Celebration of the Life of William Safire.”  Bill died on 27 September, and several of the speakers noted the suddenness of that sad event.  Not many knew of his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer; and even some who knew were taken by surprise when they heard the news.

Who else but Bill Safire could have brought together in one room such an eclectic and contradictory collection of men and women?  Rs and Ds, libs and cons, inkstained wretches and Cabinet Secretaries, leakers and leakees, younger and older — all joined in the loss of their most common denominator.   The Nixon Administration was represented by many  of Bill’s former colleagues; the Nixon Foundation was represented by Ron and Anne Walker.  Helene Safire was there, along with Bill’s son and daughter Mark and Annabel.

The Hill‘s publisher Martin Tolchin, who was Bill’s friend from their days as classmates at the Bronx High School of Science (and spearcarriers at the old Met) and his erstwhile colleague at The New York Times‘ Washington bureau, observed that loyalty, friendship, integrity, humor, and contrariness, were the qualities Bill brought with him to life’s table.

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. recalled the controversy, both inside and outside the paper, that surrounded his father’s decision to hire Bill —fresh from the Nixon White House— as an op-ed page columnist in 1973.  And how, four years later, the hire was vindicated when Bill won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.   Marty Tolchin had earlier recalled how the initial chilliness to its newest member began to thaw when, at a Times Washington bureau summer party, Bill, fully clothed, instinctively jumped into a swimming pool to rescue a colleague’s struggling youngster.

Along with most of the speakers, Ann Korologos reminisced about Bill’s great capacity for friendship and his love for language.  She recalled their many lunches at Washington’s legendary Loeb’s deli.  However long the line would be, once Bill was spotted, a tongue sandwich on rye would immediately materialize at his table.

Daniel Schorr read the transcript of the buoyant phone message Bill had left for him regretting that a touch of sciatica would prevent him from attending Dan’s 93rd birthday party at the end of August — only weeks before Bill was gone.

Judith Miller  observed Marty Tolchin’s charge to write ‘750 words, column length.”   She talked about Bill’s great generosity with his time, his sources, and his story ideas.  Bill championed the freedom of the press —what a mild statement of his devotion that is— and she thought the most fitting memorial would be naming the Free Flow of Information Act, now being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Bill Safire Federal Shield Law.  (Senator Patrick Leahy, whose Judiciary Committee is now considering S.488, spoke later and said that The Federal Shield Law would be passed.)

Marvin Kalb was CBS’ Moscow bureau chief when Vice President Nixon arrived there in 1959, and he watched Bill orchestrate, manage, and photograph the world-famous debate that took place amidst the typical American kitchen he was there to flack.

Charles Krauthammer saluted Bill as the consummate columnist — a man who combined old fashioned shoe leather reporting with a strong set of beliefs and a pellucid style.

Don Rumsfeld reflected on Bill’s closeness with his family  and the palpable joy he took in living life —and in the life he led— and how that happy contagion was the basis of so many friendships.  He recalled the times the Rumsfeld and Safire families had spent together over the four decades from 1969 to 2009.

Senator Leahy echoed the warmth and closeness of the Safire family and the wide circles of friends they embraced.

Only one speaker was a no-show: Rahm Emmanuel, who sent word that he had been called into an all-morning meeting with the President.  (There was little speculation regarding the subject of that meeting.)

The last speaker was Bill’s daughter Annabel, who has clearly inherited her dad’s wit and way with words.

Marty Tolchin recalled that Bill never ended a conversation by saying “good-bye.”  He always said “keep the faith.”  And those were the words that closed the celebration.