Two longtime friends of mine died last week. One was the renowned cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Michael DeBakey. I first met him as a young reporter in Houston in the late '60s and we kept up over the years. He lobbied me to write about health issues and the importance of research. I occasionally asked him for medical advice, which he was always happy to give. A brilliant man with fingers so long he might have been a concert pianist, Dr. DeBakey invented many of the instruments now used in operating rooms and pioneered procedures that have extended human life.
"Rebuilder of Hearts," said the New York Times' front-page obituary about this unique and extraordinary man, the son of Lebanese-Christian immigrants, who died two months shy of his 100th birthday.
My second friend, Tony Snow, succumbed to colon cancer at age 53. His mother died of the same disease when Tony was 17. I spent more time with Tony in recent years due to our proximity in Washington.
In a different way, Tony was also a rebuilder of hearts. No one could be depressed in his presence. Though battling his own cancer, he encouraged many others with the same disease. His smile lit up any room in which he appeared. His optimism was infectious. His situation didn't matter; he always wanted to know how someone else was doing.
President Bush could have described Tony in many ways. He chose to call him "a man of character." There are plenty of characters in Washington, especially in the media, but not a lot for whom this description fits. It fit Tony perfectly.
At a Washington dinner in January 2007, Tony talked about his struggle with cancer and the perspective it had given him. Before a room full of fellow journalists and entertainment people, he bared his soul: "You have to learn something that is very hard in the modern era," he said, "and that is you have to give yourself to God, to surrender. It's not really saying ŒGod, it's in your hands,' but understanding whatever may come afterward is a matter not of trying to get God to do stuff for you, except maybe to knock down some of the barriers that separate you from God, because for all of us our vanities get in the way."
Tony hid whatever vanities he had very well. Or perhaps they were overcome by his greater qualities.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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