Bush visits Alexandria home of Tony Snow

Bush visits Alexandria home of Tony Snow

After the death of Tony Snow of Mount Vernon Saturday, President Bush lauded the longtime Alexandrian and Little League coach as a man who “brought a certain civility to this very contentious job.”

On Monday, Bush and his wife Laura paid a visit to Snow’s widow, sitting on the front porch of their Alexandria rambler with Jill Snow, their son and two daughters, swapping old stories. The White House called it a private visit and would not release further details, or an official photo.

While to the rest of the world the 53-year-old former White House press secretary, political commentator, syndicated columnist and radio host was known as a Renaissance Man, to those in his closely-knit Hollin Hall neighborhood he was known more as a devout family man.

On Saturday mornings he was known to bring his kids into the Hollin Hall Bakery after Little League, and on weekend nights the avid musician could be caught live in area bars or clubs, playing blues-rock with his cover band, Beats Workin.’

Snow could play just about anything; the trombone, flute, piccolo, accordion, saxophone or guitar. He also played publicly with a number of rock bands, including his guitarist friend Skunk Baxter, who once played with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Once, Snow was featured on an episode of VH1 Classic’s Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp.

“Tony Snow did not have a meteoric career,” recalled Rich Galen, also a fellow Alexandrian, columnist and Fox News commentator. “He slugged it out. He was an editorial writer for the Detroit News – editorial writing is among the most anonymous of writing jobs at any newspaper.”

Galen said that his rough-and-tumble newspaper career put Snow in good stead, giving him “sharp elbows under the hoop” by the time he got to The White House, where he had the “walk-in authority” to enter any meeting wth the President and his advisers. “He didn’t want ‘walk-in authority’ to swagger around the other White House staff to prove he was a SOMEbody; he wanted it so he could do his job better for the President,” Galen recalled. “That was Tony’s way.”

When Snow first became ill, he asked Galen to substitute for him on his radio program. “I was thrilled and honored to do that two or three times,” Galen said. “In spite of the pain and horror of the surgery and chemo, he called me to tell me how much he had enjoyed listening to me and how he appreciated my doing that for him. That, too, was Tony’s way.”

Once, when Snow was hosting a two-hour weekend show on Fox News Channel, Snow asked Galen if he could come to his office for a few minutes. “That was when he told me about the offer to go to the White House. He asked me what I thought – having given up my private life to go to Iraq. He told me he had gone back and read my last regular Mullings column before I had left.”

Snow had printed it out and after ruffling around on his desk which was typically piled high with papers, books, and magazines, he pulled it out and showed Galen a highlighted remark about not being heroic for going to Iraq. Galen wrote, “If you believe, as I do, that we are at war and if you believe, as I do, that if your country asks you to use your skills in the waging of that war, then there is only one answer: ‘When do I leave?'”

Galen said that being a patriot was “Tony’s way.”  Once, Galen caught a White House briefing on television and thought Tony looked thin. When he called his office, Galen told him his shirt collar looked too big and asked how he was feeling. “He laughed and said I had uncovered one of his secrets: When he hadn’t been to the cleaners to pick up his shirts, he had to wear a ‘pre-surgery’ shirt,” he said. “I knew – and he knew I knew – that something was terribly wrong, but he didn’t want to burden me with it.”

From time to time in the past year, Snow would call Galen ask how he was doing. “He was on a heavy speaking schedule, trying to earn enough money to leave his family in good financial shape,” Galen remarked. “It was typical of Tony, while putting every bit of his diminishing strength into providing for his family, to be concerned and interested in how I was doing.”

Born in Berea, KY. and raised in suburban Cincinnati, Snow’s father Jim taught social studies and was an assistant principal at a local high school. His mother was an inner-city nurse who died of colon cancer when Snow was 17. Snow received his Bachelor’s in philosophy from Davidson College in 1977, then embarking on a journalism career which took him on a seductive thrill ride to newspapers in Greensboro, Norfolk, Newport News, Detroit and finally Washington, where they lived in successive homes in Alexandria.

Snow and his family settled first in an old row house in Old Town, where Snow’s former colleague from The Detroit News, Editorial Editor Nolan Finley, stopped by one day and found him struggling with a “honey-do list,” Finley wrote in a remembrance he shared with The Alexandria Times on Monday. “I offered to help with some of the chores and asked Tony if he had any tools. ‘Of course,’ he said, and headed off for the laundry room. He returned with a miniature hammer, a couple of useless screwdrivers and a tape measure, all resting in just the cutest little wicker basket.”

Finley called it a “running joke” among his family and friends that when required to use his hands for anything mechanical, “Tony was a comically inept handyman.” But when it came to the things you fix with your heart, Nolan said, “he was a master craftsman.”

Snow was one of the most influential journalists of his generation, bringing “class and civility to a political world that has too little of both,” Nolan said.

But for him, the enduring image of Snow was that of him “relaxing on his couch, an arm draped around his young son, the two girls snuggled close against his legs, listening, talking, laughing, loving. Above all else, Tony Snow was an enormously successful family man, and that answers the question of why he was always smiling, even in the worst of times.”

The Snow household, he said, was always “filled with love and chaos.” One evening, he recalled, he and Snow were talking in his family room when Eddie, their golden Lab, trotted by with a loaf of bread in his mouth that he had fished out of a cupboard. Close behind were two kids, shrieking and tugging and grabbing for the purloined loaf. “Tony looked, shrugged and kept talking,” Nolan said.

Three years ago, Snow was diagnosed with cancer in his colon, but he returned to broadcasting several months later after having surgery.  In March, 2007, after a year as press secretary, Snow once again recused himself from work to seek treatment for recurrent cancer. In the early morning of July 12, Snow died at Georgetown University Hospital as a result of colon cancer that had spread to his liver.

“He believed so stubbornly that he could manage the disease, keep it in check, and stick around long enough to see his children grown,” Nolan said. “Tony was a winner, because he knew how to live and laugh even while dying, and he knew how to love.”