Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
April 9, 2004
"Not every American is a cowboy." Alistair Cooke spent a lot of his
life trying to help his native Britons understand this idea. Born in
Britain and educated at Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, he lived in this
country for the last two thirds of his life and became an American
citizen. For 58 years he sent through the airwaves from New York to
England a weekly "Letter from America." During that time he lived in
New York and worked for British Broadcasting Company. He was the
British interpreter of life in this country.
Late in February of this year, after his 2,869th broadcast, he announced
his retirement. On March 30, just a month later, he died at the age of
I wish I had known him. I never did hear him read any of his "Letters
from America," although in the last few days I have read a number of
them. His mastery of the English language was extraordinary. And I did
hear him introducing "Mystery Theater" in that warm, rich British
William Safire wrote a beautiful, humorous obituary. It combined
humor, intellectualism, affectionate laughter at Cooke's sophisticated
use of use of words and deep affection for his friend.
My son John emailed me a copy of the Safire article out of the New York
Times with his usual wordy explanation. "In case you missed this,
Safire says you should keep writing your column."
And therein lies my awe of this Brit turned American. He was still
writing and broadcasting at 95 although his health was deteriorating.
He was not free of physical problems. He spoke of "my friend Arthur
Itis. Safire writes, "Not only was he living longer than most, but
living with his mind more actively engaged than most. 'I try to stay
on top of the news,' he told me as he entered his ninth decade.
'Neuroscientists tell me that a disciplined contact with the world
around us keeps the brain's synapses snapping. Deadlines keep our
Ah yes. You can ignore the weather, dinner, a full night's sleep, even
a coffee break with your buddy, but you cannot ignore a deadline. And
Alistair Cooke's synapses kept snapping for 95 years.
Another journalist whose brain is staying active into his late years is
Daniel Schorr, who will be 88 in August. I often hear him on Public
Radio, and had no idea he was that old. He writes and delivers three
erudite commentaries a week and does an interview on Saturday. Safire
calls him a supergeezer.
There is still another supergeezer I have admired for years. Gene
Amole kept his synapses sizzling long after most have fizzled out. He
took column writing for the Rocky Mountain News to an amazing level of
passion, knowledge and personal feelings. He used to write 3 columns a
week, but boosted it up to 6 during the last 17 weeks of his life when
he knew he was dying and wrote about it. Amole's last columns were
strait forward and chatty showing his love of life -- things as small as
a Krispy Kreme and as significant as his love for his family. He died in
2002 at the relatively young age of 78.
Reading his last columns took me back to the Denver I knew once. He and
I were of the same generation and grew up in the same place.
Surely these men are shining examples for all of us. Whatever things
our bodies are doing to us, most of our minds are still working. The
supergeezers all prove that whatever our physical condition as we age,
we should do our best to "keep the brain's synapses snapping."
OK, guys, I'll try