Bush hails Snow's 'record of accomplishment'

Cancer claims ex-Bush press secretary Tony Snow
July 17, 2008 5:31:46 PM PDT
President Bush led a poignant tribute on Thursday to his friend and former spokesman, Tony Snow, who lost his public fight with cancer but never surrendered the spirit that defined his life. The somber president spoke of Snow as he would a member of his family, and to many of those who work at the White House, that's what Snow was. He served a relatively short 16-month stint as Bush's press secretary, but he made friends fast, and earned respect for handling his disease with grace and hope.

"Everyone who worked with him quickly grew to love him," the president said. "We will always remember his wry sense of humor and abundant goodness. We'll also remember he was just a lot of fun."

Bush stood beneath the soaring arches of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a cavernous church on the campus of Catholic University. More than a thousand people came to honor Snow, a collection of family friends, Washington journalists and White House colleagues.

A single portrait of Snow stood near the altar. It showed him in his element, holding forth at a podium, and smiling.

Snow died on Saturday of colon cancer. He was 53.

The president said Snow, in a brief life, amassed a record of accomplishment. Long before he went to work at Bush's White House, Snow was an editorial writer, a columnist, a radio host. Ever comfortable in front of the camera, he was a nationally recognizable face as a TV anchor and conservative commentator.

Snow also worked for Bush's father, the first president Bush. The current president used this bit of history to inject a little levity into the funeral service.

"As a speechwriter in my dad's administration, Tony tried to translate the president's policies into English," Bush said. "As a spokesman in my administration, Tony tried to translate my English into English."

Snow is survived by his wife, Jill, and their three children: Kendall, 16; Robbie, 12, and Kristi, 10.

The president appeared most emotional in speaking directly to Snow's kids.

He said he would often call Snow on the weekends, seeking advice, and find that Snow was absorbed in the lives of children. Snow was invariably cheering on the sidelines of a soccer match, or helping out a child with homework, when he took the presidential phone call.

"He loved you a lot," Bush told the three children. "Today I hope you know that we loved him a lot too."

It was Snow's younger brother, Steven, who served reminders of the Tony Snow that most people never saw, when he was a child. As a youngster growing up in Cincinnati, Tony Snow read the dictionary to master new words. He played his brother in tennis on days even when the weather was absurdly hot.

And then as an adult, Snow reassured others during tough times, even when he was having some of his own.

"We will remember you and miss you, Tony," Steven Snow said. "Love you, bro."

Snow had survived one bout of cancer before he became press secretary in 2006. But the cancer returned in 2007, requiring more surgery and treatment. He described his experience last year to graduating students at Catholic University, imploring them to "Live boldly. Live a whole life."

In his homily, the Rev. David M. O'Connell said Snow's life was measured by his character, courage and optimism.

"Tony Snow did not need a long life for us to measure," he said. "It was, rather, we who needed his life to be longer."

Bush was accompanied at the church by some familiar faces from earlier in his presidency, including former top adviser Karl Rove, one-time chief of staff Andrew Card and former counselor Dan Bartlett. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were there, as was first lady Laura Bush.

Scott McClellan, Snow's predecessor as press secretary and the author of a scathing tell-all about the Bush White House, attended. He did not appear to cross paths with Bush. Other press secretaries from Bush's tenure and the Bill Clinton White House attended too.

For the president, it was a long day.

He flew by Marine One helicopter directly from a ball field at Catholic University to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then jetted to California to tour fire-damaged areas and hold a fundraiser for Republicans later Thursday.