Column: Warner’s human touch missing in D.C.

By Greg Glassner

Editor Emeritus


I was away from Virginia for nine days recently and pretty much ignored the news media during my stay in Florida. So, as a retired newsman, I played a little catch-up on my return.

Perusing a few back issues of the H-P, I learned that the town pool leaks, that Del. John Cox and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling are joining the Pope and I in retirement, and that the supervisors are reconsidering their somewhat rash decision to give developers a free pass on funding infrastructure improvements.

I also noted a keel-laying event at Newport News Shipbuilding for the Virginia-Class submarine to be named in honor of retired U.S. Sen. John Warner.

I found this noteworthy because Mr. Warner had a habit of strolling into my life about every 10 years or so.

I first encountered Warner at another keel-laying ceremony. It was for the nuclear cruiser USS Virginia, which was also built at Newport News.

As a junior news reporter for the Norfolk Ledger-Star, I had been assigned to cover the event on a Saturday morning. Warner, already identified as a comingman in the GOP, was there as Secretary of the Navy.

After the speeches, I dictated my story on deadline from a shipyard pay phone while the band blasted boisterous Sousa marches in the background.

Voice dictation of news stories is probably a lost art in the age of laptops and smart phones, but it was a required skill in the 1970s. Its success depended on the clear enunciation of the reporter and the good hearing of the guy on the other end of the phone in the newsroom. Brass bands blaring in the background were an added impediment.

In my dictation, I identified Adm. Hyman Rickover as the head of the Navy’s Department of Nuclear Propulsion. In the newspaper that afternoon it came out “head of the Navy’s Department of Nuclear Compulsion.”

A grand reception followed at a local country club and we members of the press corps attended to scarf up free food and booze. While the dignitaries milled around in the ballroom, we carried our drinks and food plates to the informal bar and sat down on the stairway.

Seeking a refill, the Secretary of the Navy threaded his way through our midst, got his libation replenished and chatted with us for a few moments after observing, “You must be the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate.”

After exchanging pleasantries, Warner said duty called and he went back to the ballroom after saying he’d really rather hang around with us instead of the stuffed shirts upstairs.

I think he meant it.

I was editor of the Chesapeake Post when I next encountered Warner, then a U.S. Senator.

The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to evict a trailer park off leased land on the banks of the Inland Waterway at Great Bridge. An elderly widow depended on lot rents for her income and the trailer owners were retirees who enjoyed sitting on the banks fishing and watching the yachts pass through the locks.

I had championed their cause in the newspaper, and the City Council had scheduled a hearing at which the Corps presented its case and the retirees theirs.

Sen. Warner strolled into the somewhat contentious atmosphere and asked to be recognized.

In short order, Warner told the bird colonel with the Corps that he sat on the Military Appropriations Committee from which the colonel got his paycheck. “I suggest you find another place to dump your dredging spill and leave these people alone,” Warner said.

The trailer park lease was renewed.

It was a good example of how John Warner sliced through red tape.

Another decade or so passed before I ran into Warner for the last time.

I was then editor of the Madison Eagle and we had gathered at our printing plant at the Orange County Review to get the papers out for the week.

Warner attended a poorly organized campaign rally in the adjoining parking lot and, not wanting to waste the opportunity, strolled into the building and offered himself up for interviews.

I accepted the offer and during our chat he kept staring at my not insubstantial midsection. I feared he was going to suggest that I must be as fond of cheeseburgers as President Clinton.

Then Warner asked me where I had purchased my belt. He proceeded to tell me that one of his hobbies was collecting belt buckles and he wanted one like mine.

John Warner was the type of politician who knew how to get things done and still retained the human touch.

We could use a few more guys like him in Congress today.

Posted on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm