Tony Blankley's home in Great Falls, Virginia, outside Washington, was routinely described as a "gentleman's farm", which was appropriate because Tony was the consummate gentleman, befitting his birth in London. But the farm animals on this property were of the exotic kind. It always occurred to me during visits that the worn out cliche might have been changed to "If you want a friend in Washington, get a llama"
The truth of the matter is that Tony's human friends included an equally diverse collection of humankind. It is a mix of people coated in a wide variety of political stripes and those who wear different hats.
I was in the herd of journalists whose relentless pursuit of his clients was never taken personally by him. No matter how hard the collisions that came with our work, when he would finish defending his client, Newt Gingrich, from our professional onslaught he would go to dinner with his antagonist to laugh about the day and chew over ideas and gossip along with our meal.
I enjoyed many such evenings as well as warm times with his family and our get-togethers would always range from lofty intellectual discussions to low humor. And of course, time with the llamas.
Now he's gone. He died this weekend, leaving a large group of admirers who will now circle around his incredible wife Lynda and their children.
He never forgot his British roots and manners. Frankly, it was amusing, because he had come to the United States at such a young age. I used to joke that when we got angry at someone, he would "smite the bounder", while I would "kick the ---- out of him". On this side of The Pond, his family settled in Hollywood where he became a child actor. He grew up to be an attorney, speech writer, columnist, editor and during his years as Newt Gingrich's press secretary, a fireman who was constantly putting out Newt's rhetorical fires. He somehow managed to be bon vivant and down to earth at the same time, which is remarkable when you think of it, as was his ability to bridge the gap between restless curiosity and graciousness.
A few years ago, he showed me video of his role in the movie The Harder They Fall. He was eight-years-old and played Rod Steiger's son. I was astonished at how he looked like a miniature of his grownup self, a munchkin duplicate. In adulthood he managed to be bigger than all the pettiness that so often reduces Washington. I am among the many who will mourn his premature passing and celebrate the good fortune of sharing his life, both professionally and personally.