Greatness, Old-School Style: a Vanishing America
As you get older, you always remember school—the teachers, the lockers and locker rooms, the class rooms and books, the brainy ones and book worms, the others, the jocks and beauty queens, even the school ties.
There’s another kind of school that everyone remembers: the old school, as in old school, not a campus but a state of mind that comes up when its members pass away and are—in praise, condolence and with affection and regret—remembered one last time. Adjectives we rarely hear anymore trail them like life honors and diplomas.
We give you a disparate group of old schoolers, and with them such descriptions as gentlemen, lady, professional, class, originality, larger than life, descriptions ill-fitting to today’s class of celebrities who hound us as much as the paparazzi hound them.
We give you an American political legend, a liberal Republican leader, a television newsman who was the kind of on-camera star who resonated professionalism and class, an actor who managed to stay in our minds, and sometimes our oddest dreams, and a Hall of Fame football player who could never be mistaken for anything else. In their professions, they were in one way or another, a part of legend, history and sometimes the top of their class. In the best of ways, they were old-school originals which is to say we will not see their like again.
We give you: William Scranton, Lindy Boggs, John Palmer, Michael Ansara and Art Donovan.
WILLIAM SCRANTON—We live in times of cultural, social and economic division, the latter being more of a chasm that exists with the so-called one percenters and the rest of the country. Scranton was a one percenter of the kind that’s rarely seen any more: a scion of a family whose name graces the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania (a city that’s seriously economically trouble these days), a family whose maternal side goes back to the Mayflower. If Scranton was moneyed and privileged, he believed in public service. He was a Yalie who dropped out to serve in the Army Air Corps in World War II, who took up politics in a congressional race that was considered bitter and heated for its day in the early 1960s and was later elected to the governorship of Pennsylvania. During that time, there were still a large number of “moderate” Republicans and even a significant number (like Nelson Rockefeller), who could be called liberal. Scranton was once dubbed a “Kennedy Republican” and took on a challenge to the insurgent conservative candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964, failing to stop the Arizona Senator who then went to be defeated soundly by President Lyndon Johnson. Scranton also served as Ambassador to the United Nations under President Ford. But he had vowed never to run for office again and kept his word. The image: graceful and gracious, moderate in temperament, the kind of politician who wasn’t a natural politician and who’s as rare as a unicorn in GOP ranks today. Scranton died of a cerebral hemorrhage July 28 at the age of 96 in California.
LINDY BOGGS—When it came to family roots, Louisianan Lindy Boggs could hold her own: her family, the Clairbornes, went back to colonial Jamestown, the first English colony in North America. But it was when she won a special election to succeed her husband, the late GOP House majority leader Thomas Hale Boggs, in 1973 for his congressional seat that she came into her own. A Democrat from the South, she championed civil rights causes for African Americans, women and children, using charm, intelligence and the political and social skills she had displayed since she came to Washington with her husband in the 1940s. She won elections in a district that was predominantly black. Her children all made names for themselves: Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., a major partner in the prestigious law firm Patton Boggs, Cokie Roberts, the high-profile correspondent for ABC News and National Public Radio, and the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who was mayor of Princeton, New Jersey. Boggs died of natural causes at the age of 97 in Chevy Chase, Md., July 27.
JOHN PALMER—“Gentleman," “classy,” “pro” and “family man” were all words used by his colleagues to describe Palmer, the hard-working newsman, correspondent and news anchor who brought clarity to viewers by telling complicated stories in person from war-torn and far-flung places, or as a news anchor for NBC's Today Show when it was hosted by Bryan Gumble and Jane Pauley. He broke the story of the abortive attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. He looked the part of foreign correspondent when he was one, but mostly he came across as trustworthy, with little need for overly dramatic flair. NBC said in its statement that he was “a brilliant, brave, and tireless journalist….he covered five presidents and traveled to every corner of the world, always showing the empathy and compassion that helped set him apart.” Palmer died Aug. 3 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 77 of pulmonary fibrosis.
MICHAEL ANSARA—It’s not entirely ironic that in our sci-fi and celebrity-loving culture that the Syrian-born American actor Michael Ansara would be best remembered in some quarters for his three-time appearances on Star Trek as the Klingon Commander Kang and for having been at one time the husband of “I Dream of Jeannie” star Barbara Eden. There was a lot more to Ansara the actor. He took up the part of the Apache chieftain Cochise in the popular television series “Broken Arrow” (from the original film starring Jeff Chandler and James Steward). He had small parts in “The Ten Commandments” and “Julius Caesar,” in which Marlon Brando showed that American method actors could play Shakespeare as Marc Anthony. He was a character actor in numerous Westerns, epics and on television shows (including “Jeannie). His acting credits in both film—"The Robe"—and TV series—"Hawaii 5-0," "Man from U.N.C.L.E."—make for a very long list: again, a pro and old school. He died July 31 at the age of 92 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in California.
ART DONOVAN—A legendary Baltimore Colts football player at defensive tackle, Art "The Bulldog" Donovan earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame while another current legend, Baltimore offensive tackle John Ogden was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Donovan looked old school—he used to sport the same razor-sharp butch haircut, owned by quarterback legend Johnny Unitas. He told stories his long life through, including this testament to old school behavior: “I never lifted anything more than 24 ounces and that was a bottle of Schlitz.” He died Aug. 4 from a respiratory disease at the age of 88 in Baltimore.