Susan Estrich: Farewell to legendary reporter Jack Germond

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There are a million things that make Jack Germond, the legendary reporter and columnist who died recently after decades of covering presidential politics, different from most of the current crop of talking heads.

OK, he was not blown dry. He was the Fat Man in a Middle Seat, the title of one of his books.

But that was the least of it. Jack lived and breathed politics. He also reported on it. He made calls, checked sources, took the time to talk things through.

He did not write it unless he knew it to be true.

He did not say it unless he actually knew it. He was not in love with the sound of his own voice. He actually knew what he was talking about.

He did not make mistakes — at least not any that I remember.

He loved the game: the ins and outs, the tactics and the strategy, the combination of personalities, peculiarities and passions that make “us” (us being the boys and eventually the girls on the bus) a special breed.

He covered politics for a very simple reason: Because it matters. Because it’s important. He had high expectations of the people who would lead this country, and when they didn’t meet those expectations, he was as tough as they come.

But he was fair. He wasn’t looking for the cheap shot, but the clear shot. He always gave you a fair chance.

I was a kid — a veritable baby — when I met Jack back in 1980, and he would have been entirely within his rights to have told me to go find my boss for him because he didn’t talk to children. But he would never do that.

He listened. He taught. He told me the great stories: the old campaigns, the magical moments, the stuff that made politics in those days seem like the best place in the world to work 20 hours a day.

He helped me to see the line between the things you could change and the things you couldn’t, as well as the real stuff, the judgment and the experience of the man or woman at the top.

But here’s the sweetest part. In covering politics, he didn’t just find work that he loved. He didn’t just find his passion. He also found the woman he loved. It was their passion.

This column is a salute to Jack Germond, one of the greats, one of the heroes of political journalism.

But it is also a salute to the great lady who shared these past decades with him, the voice you heard reading the roll at Democratic conventions, the tireless, determined, dogged Democratic National Committeewoman from California Alice Travis — later Alice Travis Germond.

I remember when they met in 1984. Alice was a dynamo from California. Jack was Jack.

Four years later, they married. I think they both felt like they’d won the lottery — finding someone who loved the game, who valued the game, not to mention loving each other.

It made me smile when I’d run into her and someone would take me aside to tell me she was married to Jack. Yes, I’d say, and he to her. The whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

A couple who, even in my most cynical moments, could make me remember why I fell in love with politics and with the people who loved it as much as I did, for all the right reasons, and not just because we liked to win, but also because it mattered.

Jack Germond died recently at 85. For 24 years, he wrote five days a week. And it wasn’t just space to fill. He taught a generation of us to love politics and to respect it. May he rest in peace.

SUSAN ESTRICH’S column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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