Last week, whilst teaching a course at Colorado College, I wrote a piece for The Economist about a bill to allow civil unions in the state, which was combined with reporting on Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage and that passage of North Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. This larger story – Colorado is rather small beer, to be fair – meant that my piece went from 500 words to about 150. Given that I am an infrequent freelancer, usually I’d be gutted, but this meant a few lines in an article written for the most part by Peter David, the Washington bureau chief and Lexington columnist, who I just found out died tragically in a car crash last Thursday night, the day the article went to press.
I am too stunned to write much about this. Clive Crook, formerly with The Economist, who knew him far better than I did, wrote a wonderful tribute about a first rate journalist and one of the gentlest intellects one will ever come across. His colleagues added their condolences and remembrances to a piece written by Politico. Peter was my neighbour when I lived in Washington (I occupied an attic; he a house), and while he perhaps did not know it, was a very influential figure to me in a, shall we say, transitional period in life. He would be too modest to admit that his advice held significant weight. It did. In an age of a so-called dying trade, Peter was very sympathetic and supportive to a young writer trying – maybe a little too hard – to crack into journalism. One time he said, “Blake, relax. Keep in mind that I was once writing in a magazine about house plants.” And apparently he did – or perhaps he was trying to make me feel better. Nevertheless, he was one of the biggest proponents of my current adventure at Oxford and always had time to hear about what I was working on – even taking the time last September to have a coffee with me when up against a impending deadline.
The gay marriage article was certainly not his main assignment last week. Everyone has rightly encouraged all to read his last column: a bit of optimism about America amidst so many predictions of impending doom. That piece is so David. I always felt better after talking with him. I’ll keep my glass half-full on his advice – and will always be cheered that I got to share a few sentences under his (hidden) byline.
A Blake Ewing is a DPhil student at Oxford University and the Graduate Editor of Politics in Spires.
So sad to learn this. Peter David was one of the best reporters and columnists at The Economist. His loss will be felt most by those who read the magazine regularly. May God bless his soul!