Political and media insiders joined family and friends Monday to share a last public laugh and remember the antics of humor columnist Art Buchwald.
Buchwald’s family and a selection of heavy hitters from the world of media and politics kept the audience laughing for about an hour and a half at a memorial service for Buchwald, who died of kidney failure in January.
?His readers got a few column inches every week … but his friends got the hand-crafted, original, good-enough-for-Broadway material,? former NBC ?Nightly News? anchor Tom Brokaw told the audience at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The group included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. and Margaret Warner, a senior correspondent on ?The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.?
Ethel Kennedy drew a tremendous response from the crowd with an anecdote about selecting Buchwald, who was Jewish, as the godfather to some of her children. She said he reacted badly when the priest asked him to renounce the devil, running to the back of the church and telling her that he wasn’t ?ready to renounce Satan? yet.
?May Jack and Bobby take care of you, who took such wonderful care of the children and me,? she said.
But the man himself got the biggest laughs of the day when two extended video clips were played on a large screen behind the faux lampposts decorating the stage.
?Mr. President I see by the puzzled look on your face, that you are wondering what I am doing here tonight on a program devoted to culture,? Buchwald said to President Reagan at the 1981 Kennedy Center Honors. Later he added, ?my role is to prove that even those of us who work in the press rooting out evil, defending the truth and unearthing scandal wherever we may find it, have nothing personal against Beethoven.?
Buchwald’s friends and family even managed to find humor in his death.
?Dad was probably the only person to ever gain weight while in the hospice,? son Joel Buchwald said. Longtime doctor and friend Michael Newman later added that after Buchwald decided to stop dialysis treatment, he ?ate with enthusiasm.?
Buchwald himself found ways to make light of his medical problems, saying his decision to forgo dialysis treatment brought media attention to his situation. The service included a clip from a December 2006 episode of ?CBS Sunday Morning,? when Buchwald said, ?pretty soon people in television and radio and newspapers said ‘hey, Buchwald’s dying in hospice, go over there. It could be a good story.’?
Friend and fellow humor columnist Dave Barry related that Buchwald kept him in stitches while explaining his leg amputation due to circulation problems.
?He talked funny, he wrote funny, he lived funny and damned if he didn’t figure out a way to die funny,? Barry said.
Other eulogies were delivered by ?60 Minutes? newsman Mike Wallace, former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, daughter Jennifer Buchwald, daughter-in-law Tamara Buchwald and George Stevens Jr., producer of the Kennedy Center Honors.