MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Newt Gingrich paid tribute to his former congressional press secretary Tony Blankley, who died Sunday after a battle with stomach cancer, calling him a "caring and loving person" who will be missed deeply by his family and friends.
Blankley, 63, was a conservative author, commentator and former editorial page editor of the Washington Times. From 1990 to 1997, he served as press secretary and adviser to Gingrich. Before that, he was a speechwriter and senior policy analyst to President Ronald Reagan.
Speaking to reporters after a town hall meeting at Don Quijote restaurant in Manchester, N.H., Gingrich said he first heard the news of Blankley's passing from Blankley's wife, Lynda Davis, early on Sunday morning.
"Tony was a very very dear friend, a great colleague. [He] had worked with me when I was whip and helped us -- was a key person in the 1994 Contract with America campaign -- was my press secretary as Speaker," said Gingrich. "Just as I was the first [GOP] Speaker in 40 years, he was the first Republican press secretary for Speaker in 40 years. He was a great writer. He had a terrific career after Congress."
In 1996, the Los Angeles Times published an article calling Blankley "The Speaker's Speaker" and dubbed him "one of the most successful press secretaries in Washington" -- even though Gingrich, at the time, was one of the most unpopular politicians in the country.
Gingrich noted that Blankley's father had been an accountant for Winston Churchill before coming to Hollywood to be a financial executive in the film industry. As a child, Blankley appeared in movies and television shows such as "Lassie" and "Highway Patrol."
"Tony grew up with a deep passion and commitment, that I think he got from his dad, for freedom," said Gingrich. "A deep sense of affection for Prime Minister Churchill and later Prime Minister Thatcher. First one to work for candidate [Ronald] Reagan, running for governor, then worked in Sacramento -- had a deep understanding of Reagan."
"I just want you to know that Callista and I extended our deepest, deepest condolences to Lynda and the family," he added. "Tony was a very special person. Everybody in our alumni who heard about it felt something in their hearts because he was more than a great professional. He was a great human being. He was a caring and loving person. He was a tremendous amount of fun. Remarkably erudite and educated, and we will all miss him deeply. Our hearts go out to Lynda and the family. I would hope that all of you who knew him professionally would have the same feeling."