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Opinion: Remembering Mike Gerson, Washington Post columnist

President George W. Bush prepares for his State of the Union Speech with Karen Hughes, Counselor to the President, and Michael Gerson, Director of Presidential Speech Writing, outside the Oval Office January 29, 2002 in Washington DC.
The White House
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President George W. Bush prepares for his State of the Union Speech with Karen Hughes, Counselor to the President, and Michael Gerson, Director of Presidential Speech Writing, outside the Oval Office January 29, 2002 in Washington DC.

I was a little sniffy when Michael Gerson became a columnist for the Washington Post in 2007. He'd been a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and while he'd crafted some of the President's most memorable lines, I was suspicious of the revolving door between politics and journalism. A columnist ought to have opinions. But I didn't believe they should be predictable, or polemical.

In fact, I still believe that. But I was wrong about Mike Gerson.

Mike died this week of cancer, at the age of 58. He had worked for politicians and evangelical leaders, but Mike's own voice in his columns was eloquent, singular, faithful, and often surprising. He made you want to know what he thought.

We exchanged emails, but never met. Mike once wrote a nice column about a book I wrote about adoption, reflecting on the adoption story that brought his wife from Incheon, South Korea to St. Louis - where the two met as children.

Mike was righteously critical in recent years of what he called a racist strategy among what had once been his own Republicans. He came to support more gun regulations, asking after this year's shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, "Is the slaughter of innocents the unavoidable price of freedom?"

Some of his most memorable and resonant columns were drawn from his own family life.

In 2013 after leaving his son at college, he wrote:

"His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go. Put another way: He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close....

"Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else's story. And it is enough."

And when he brought a new puppy - Jack - into his life this year, Mike recalled his last dog, Latte, who had comforted him through depression and cancer treatments:

"Can dogs really love?" he asked. "Science might deny that the species possesses such complex emotions. But I know dogs can act in a loving fashion and provide love's consolations. Which is all we really know about what hairless apes can manage in the love department as well...

"Why do we take in new dogs? Because their joy for living renews our own."

In a profession where we now talk about reach and analytics, pageviews and retweets, Mike Gerson's words pierced into our hearts.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 18, 2022 at 8:00 PM AKST
An earlier version of this essay incorrectly referred to Gerson's youngest son. In fact, it was his oldest son.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.