The news of David Halberstam's death is a surprisingly shocking blow. In general, a man's passing at age 73 cannot seem wholly unnatural or out of sequence. But it was hard to think of Halberstam as being as anything but young. He was as full of ambition and energy and enthusiasm and spark as anyone I know, of any age.
He was a generous advisor and patron to me, starting when I was in my mid-20s, and I know that he was to many, many young journalists. As I have grown older, I have reflected on his example of the karmic importance of being nice to the young. He had his excesses -- he was strapping and big, "an honest six-three" I think he wrote in one of his books about sports, or maybe it was "an honest six-four" -- and with his deep, dramatic, sometimes self-dramatizing voice he could look and sound like a clean-shaven Old Testament God. He was aware of and liked the effect, I think. But he had a very, very big heart, and with The Best and the Brightest he changed our business. I still remember the day when, as a graduate student in England, I got my sea-mail copy of Harper's with Halberstam's long story "The Programming of Robert McNamara" on the cover. I read it all, standing at the mail box, and I thought: this is what journalism is for. (I also thought: aren't magazines great! And: I belong back in America.)
(Addendum: not everyone knows that Halberstam was a childhood friend, and I believe an actual school classmate, of Ralph Nader in their home town of Winsted, Ct. It would have been more fun to be the civics teacher than the principal at that school.)
There will be more to say later. Just now, I am stunned by his loss.
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