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Four Places of Honor in My Personal Archives

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I'm reading too many obituaries these days, but was struck by three that appeared in The Washington Post on Oct. 10 - which soon will publish its own obituary following its sale to Jeff Bezos. All were people I had special reason to remember, along with an close friend from Boston who died last week and whose funeral I attended Saturday.

They were former JFK aide and ambassador to Chile Ralph Dungan, baseball immortal Andy Pafko, former Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams and technology journalist David Gardner.

As for Dungan, who was 90, he figured in my dual biography of Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, ALMOST TO THE PRESIDENCY, which I am in the process of revising and updating now that they are both gone from the scene.

It was Dungan, who was then a member of JFK's Irish mafia, who called Humphrey as he was having lunch, ironically at the Chilean Embassy, on November 22, 1963, to tell him that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

As Humphrey remembered, Dungan told him "'The president has been shot.' I said, 'What president?' He said, "President Kennedy.'" Dungan told Humphrey it wasn't known whether Kennedy was dead and promised to call back as soon as he found out.

"I hadn't more than hung up the phone when he called back and said, 'He's dead,'" recalled Humphrey, who went immediately to the White House, where he sat in stunned silence with Dungan and another JFK aide Kenny O'Donnell as they waiting for the plane bearing Kennedy's body, and his successor Lyndon Johnson, who would later pick Humphrey as his vice president.
And Adcock, who died at 92, was the outfielder who watched Bobby Thomson's historic homerun sail over his head when the New York Giants beat Pafko's Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant in 195l.

Like every Dodger fan, I was heartbroken, but gradually forgot about the famous game until I happened to be visiting the artist LeRoy Neiman, my friend and fellow Minnesotan, in New York several years ago when he told me he had done a painting of Thomson's homerun in 1990.

And when I visited a nearby shop that specialized in Neiman prints, I spotted a giant one signed by Nieman, Thomson and Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca , who threw the ball that Thomson hit, although Pafko isn't visible in the print. I bought it and had it framed (I paid $1,200 if you must know, but don't tell my wife). It hangs in my basement today.

Rod Grams was only 65 when he died of cancer. He was a conservative Republican who defeated a Democratic House member and was elected to the Senate two years later. He served only one term - as a foil to liberal firebrand Paul Wellstone - before losing to former Sen. and now-Gov. Mark Dayton.

But I covered Grams for The Hill and respected and liked him.

As for Gardner, who was 77 and died Oct. 8 after suffering a heart attack while being treated for leukemia, he was renowned for his knowledge of the computer industry and the digital information age, according to his obit in the Boston Globe. I first met him in the 1980's when he interviewed Bill Norris, the iconic founder and CEO of Control Data, whom I was working for at the time. We became good friends after Norris, who was not an easy interview, said, "That guy knows more about computers than I do."

Gardner was still writing about computer technology for a website publication at the time of his death. Among his best stories was one he wrote for Scientific American two years ago about the cleanup effort at the Soviet nuclear test site in Kazahkstan, which was contaminated by some 500 nuclear explosions during the Cold War.

Gardner also loved to travel and ski, and I accompanied him many times, most recently skiing in Colorado two years ago. Like Dungan. Pafko and Grams, he has earned a place of honor in my personal archives.