By: Dave Astor
Jennifer Buchwald came to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference here Saturday night to thank the NSNC for giving Art Buchwald its Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. She also had news about her father, who had entered a hospice in February expecting to die within weeks.
“Dad is alive and well and arrived at Martha’s Vineyard today for the summer,” said Jennifer, who added that Buchwald plans to write a book about his near-death experience. The Tribune Media Services columnist had refused dialysis, but the expected few final weeks in the Washington, D.C.-area hospice stretched to months — and better health.
“When dad got put in hospice, we all thought it was a one-way ticket,” Jennifer said. “Instead it was a round-trip ticket with frequent-flyer miles.” She joked that this “miracle” was “the survival of the fittest and funniest.”
NSNC President Suzette Martinez Standring had traveled to the hospice in February to personally present Art with her organization’s award, because all reports had indicated that the Pulitzer Prize-winning political satirist woudn’t be alive on July 1 to receive it in Boston. Then Christian Science Monitor columnist/blogger Tom Regan visited the hospice in April and videotaped brief remarks by Art. The video was shown Saturday night.
“Sorry I couldn’t be here,” said Art. “My theory is that dying is easy, parking is tough. I do two columns a week, and that gives me a reason to stick around.”
Jennifer said the things Art loves include food, being center stage, spending time with friends, and writing. She noted that he experienced the first three things in abundance at the hospice — and then the fourth as his health improved.
“Dad started writing again just when President Bush’s popularity dropped below 30%,” she recalled with a smile.
The food? “Dad built a magic tunnel from hospice to McDonald’s, which offered to deliver the food with no delivery charge,” Jennifer said. Spending time with friends? “He had so many visitors that some days it was standing room only,” she added.
Art also receive numerous phone calls, including one from Mike Wallace. The “60 Minutes” newsman joked with Buchwald to “cut the crap,” stop milking his illness for visitors and awards, and begin writing.
Jennifer concluded: “I’m often asked, ‘Is your father is as funny in private as he is in public?’ My answer is, ‘You bet.”
Standring, who became friends with Jennifer after presenting the lifetime achievement honor to her father in February, described Art as “the patron saint of political satire.”
The NSNC also announced Saturday night that Santa Clarita (Calif.) Signal columnist John Boston had won the annual Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. Columnist Bob Haught of The Daily Oklahoman noted that Boston has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities. Haught quipped that “Boston couldn’t come to Boston” to accept the prize in person, but will receive it from Kem Rogers — a grandson of Will — at the NSNC’s March 15-18 Will Rogers Writing Workshop in Oklahoma City.
Wall Street Journal writer Jeff Zaslow, a past winner of the Rogers prize, presented various columnists with NSNC contest awards.
First-place winners included Benjamin Brewer of WSJ (online category) and Smiley Anders of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La. (items).
The first-place winner for general-interest columnist at a 100,000-plus-circulation paper was Bob Welch of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore. The humor winner in that circulation category was W. Bruce Cameron of the Denver Rocky Mountain News and Creators Syndicate.
For circulation under 100,000, the first-place winners were Kate Fratti of the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times (general-interest) and and Steve Symanovich of the San Francisco Business Times (humor).