Shortly after Tony and Jill Snow left Detroit for Washington, I stopped by the ancient row house they were renting in Old Town Alexandria and found Tony struggling with a honey-do list.
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.
It was 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, he was a master craftsman.
The recounting of Tony Snow’s professional life will note that he was one of the most significant journalists of his generation, that he brought class and civility to a political world that has too little of both, and that his ideas helped shape the concept of compassionate conservatism.
But for me, the enduring image of Tony Snow will be 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 is filled with love and chaos, and I guess the two things just naturally go together. Most often, animals outnumber people.
Tony and I were talking in his family room one evening when Eddie, their incorrigible golden Lab, trotted by with a loaf of bread in his mouth that he’d 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.
This is why he fought cancer so hard. And why he believed so stubbornly that he could manage the disease, keep it in check, and stick around long enough to see his children grown.
As much as he loved his family, he loved his work, and the tug-of-war between the two caused him considerable distress.
Last July Fourth, just after the cancer returned, I was with Tony in the White House. As he showed me his office, I was struck that it wasn’t the power or the influence that held him there when far more lucrative — and less stressful — jobs beckoned.
He was drawn by the history and his place in it, by what he saw as the deep privilege of serving his country.
Even after his illness forced him to step down as President Bush’s press secretary, Tony was planning for the next phase of his life, talking about speeches and books and columns. And, about his family.
Tony was a man of deep faith. He didn’t fear death, or dread it.
But he was convinced that his great passion for his life, for his wife, for his children would prevail. He believed that to the last.
Saturday, I heard a newscaster say that Tony Snow had lost his battle with cancer.
It’s hard for me to think of it that way. Tony was a winner, because he knew how to live and laugh even while dying, and he knew how to love.
Nolan Finley writes for The Detroit News, used with permission.