I recently returned from Washington, D.C., and my trip inspired me to make this contribution to honor Father’s Day. The stimulus for my visit was to attend the memorial service on May 30 for Thomas W. Braden. He passed away at age 92 at his home in Denver on April 3, 2009.
There are a couple of reasons that many of you may be familiar with Tom Braden. He was the author of Eight is Enough, a family memoir that became the successful television series that debuted in 1976. He was also the founder and first co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.
As a newspaper columnist, he would occasionally write a “fluff” column about one of his family experiences. With a wife, Joan, three sons, and five daughters, he could always come up with something. However, fellow journalist Stewart Alsop told him that those personal stories were his best written works. That resulted in Tom’s compiling and expanding the stories into the book.
For the TV series, the family’s last name was changed to Bradford, but otherwise the first names were kept (TV cast, right). At that time, Joannie Braden, one of Tom’s daughters, and I were teaching at the American School of Quito, Ecuador. She told me that she didn’t think she liked the idea of someone playing her on TV – and she meant it. That was probably true for the whole family. They are a very unpretentious, down-to-earth, live-and-let-live, closely-knit bunch.
The last time I saw Tom was on Father’s Day 2005. Long retired and in failing health, he had moved to Denver where three of his daughters lived and where they could keep an eye on him. All of them and their families got together at his house on that holiday. I was in Denver that weekend visiting Joannie and her husband Rick Ridder.
What was a special treat for me, but was probably a routine occurrence for everyone else, was when Tom read an excerpt from his book to his sons-in-law, me, and any of his daughters and grandkids who strolled into the living room. How neat! The father of Eight is Enough reading aloud to his family on Father’s Day!
The memorial service was held in Washington where most of his friends still lived. Haynes Johnson (pictured, right) was there. Before his retirement, Mr. Johnson was a frequent journalist on PBS’s “Washington Week.” He also wrote Sleepwalking through History, a superb history of the Reagan presidency. One of Tom’s sons-in-law told me that Tom really admired that book – apparently as much as I did.
Patrick Buchanan (pictured, right) was also at the service, and he delivered one of the three eulogies. Buchanan and Braden were the two original co-hosts of Crossfire, which was CNN’s number one show for the seven years they were together. Buchanan was on the right, Braden on the left, and a guest was caught in the “crossfire” of perceptive questions on key issues of the day. Tom was 72 years old when the show began, and eventually CNN wanted someone younger. The show was never the same quality again and has since been discontinued.
Before the memorial service, I ran into Mr. Buchanan in the foyer of the St. Albans School chapel. I informed him that we had met years before at the wedding of Joannie and Rick Ridder. It had been an outdoor wedding on the spacious grounds of the Braden home in Chevy Chase, MD. However, the young lady that I had brought with me and I came upon Mr. Buchanan in the den. I reminded him that she introduced herself by saying, “Wouldn’t you know that the only two Republicans at this event would find each other?” I told him that I was still embarassed for having brought a Republican to my friends’ wedding. He didn’t laugh, but he did smile.
In the last few weeks of Tom Braden’s life, Joannie would visit with him each weekday evening. They watched The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and then discussed current events. She got so desperate for things to talk about that she resorted to going to my website and printing out my essays. She read them to him. Fortunately for me, he liked them. But when he said, “I sure would like to meet that man,” she had to remind him that he had met me – several times.
Joannie phoned me shortly after his passing to reminisce about her father and his final days. She eventually described him quite simply: “He was a good guy.” Not a bad epitaph.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published June 20, 2009,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.