From Diary of a Mad Saloon Owner
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1...Please note the passing of one of journalism's superstars: HUGH SIDEY, who died last week in Paris. He was a mentor to me, and a friend, and he was too young to die at age 78. When I was a kid LIFE MAGAZINE was it. When it arrived each week I grabbed onto it before anyone else in the family got near. I loved the pictures and the stories, but I particularly liked to read Hugh Sidey's column about Washington and politics. As a teenager it helped me feel informed and like an insider. He was an icon to me, like WALTER CRONKITE, and one of the reasons I was inspired by journalism as a career. In 1970, when I was covering the protest movement for the Washington Bureau of United Press International, I got a phone call from the columnist NICHOLAS THIMMESCH. He said he'd been reading my stories and wanted to meet me. We met. Nick was a tall, imposing, self-confident conservative. We talked for a long while about journalism and my career goals. "You should meet Hugh Sidey," he said. "He's looking for stringers at Time." Hugh was the Washington Bureau chief for Time. "I'll call him," Nick said.
A few days later I was having lunch at Sans Souci with Hugh Sidey, an Iowa native who nonetheless carried himself with big-city polish and grace. This was a lot for my 19-year-old brain to compute. Sans Souci was the most famous power restaurant in DC, the Palm before the Palm. French and elegant, it reflected the gloss of the Kennedy era. Cub reporters like me knew this was where all the media hot shots had lunch. And here was I, a news wretch, across a white tablecloth from a news God. Not only that, he was talking to me about becoming a stringer for Time. While I sat dumbfounded, various Washington notables stopped by the table to give Hugh a handshake or a pat on the back, to trade some gossip, maybe tell a joke. For the next year I kept my staff job at UPI and was a stringer for Time, with Hugh as my editor and guide. Eventually he said he wanted me to meet MURRAY GART, chief of correspondents, to see about "coming aboard," as he put it.
All of 21 years old, I was brought into Time Inc., as a member of the staff of "FYI," the so-called in house "organ" (their word) but really the school newspaper. Various divisions of Time Inc., put young people onto FYI as a trainee program -- you learned all about the corporation by covering it -- before placing you on the staff of Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, T&L Books, etc. I reported stories for FYI and the New York Bureau of Time. It was heaven. Whenever Hugh was in NYC, or I was in Washington, we had a chat or a meal. He always kept up on me. Even when I jumped ship after a year, and crossed town to become Cronkite's writer at CBS News, Hugh and I kept up with each other. He was interested in everything. He loved to talk about television. He was keenly aware of its impact on the publishing industry; after all, TV news single-handedly murdered Life Magazine.
Hugh continued running Time Magazine in Washington for years, and writing his column, "The Presidency," for Time. Presidents liked him. They liked talking to him and confiding in him. I think his calm, sophistication and cornfed wisdom gave them comfort, and they sensed he represented a view of America that was much broader than the Lafayette Square perspective. He cared, too - about the Presidency, and politics, and the country. It was always there with him in any conversation, his great love of being part of the process.
In later years, when I returned to Washington to work at CBS News again and then at the Brinkley show, Howard and I would often run into Hugh and his wife, Anne, at Lion D'Or. We always seemed to be there on the same nights, about two tables apart, and we'd laugh about that and talk together for a while. We said we'd get together as a foursome, but we never did. In a way we were a foursome, even if two tables apart.
The last time I saw him was at a school football game about a year ago. He was there for his grandson and I was there for Spencer. He looked and sounded marvelous. "You've got to come do one of my lunches," I said. He was delighted that I'd found a niche for my journalism in the context of owning a bar.
He would have been fatalistic about dying, heartbroken about leaving Anne, but I think at some level appreciative of the fact he died in Paris. It would appeal to the romantic in him. God speed, Hugh, and thank you.