By Dick Wolfsie
In 2005, famed political humorist Art Buchwald entered hospice in Washington, D.C.
Last week, I described how I first met Mr. Buchwald in 1967 in an encounter that lasted a mere two minutes. I was a 22-year-old college kid who read his feature every day in the Washington Post.
He was one of the most successful syndicated humorist in the world. As he read my own column in his office, a flick of his wrist over my byline in my school newspaper made an indelible impression on me. There, he curmudgeonly wrote:
“Wolfsie, stay out of my racket!” – Art Buchwald
When I first reminisced about this in local Indiana papers 11 years ago, several friends suggested I send the essay to the facility where Mr. Buchwald was spending his final days. How presumptuous that would have been, I thought, imposing on a man cherishing time with close friends and family who were holding court daily.
Oh, why not? I stuffed a couple of different newspapers that contained my Buchwald column into a large envelope, and included a short note describing our brief encounter four decades earlier. I had some contact with him over the years, but it was unlikely he would remember me. Anyway, my envelope would have little chance of reaching him. He probably got thousands of cards and letters.
For the next few days, my mailbox became the watched pot that never boiled. Finally, my sophisticated defense mechanisms took over, protecting me from disappointment. I simply forgot about the entire matter.
About a month later, I was rifling through the mail. Bills, magazines, promotions, more bills. Then, what’s this? A large envelope addressed to me. From Washington, DC.
My tax refund? Not that year. Maybe I owed the IRS more?
I ripped it open and out tumbled two newspaper clips, each one featuring my column about Art Buchwald. And there, above my byline, scribbled in his very recognizable, but somewhat shaky handwriting, were the following:
“To Dick Wolfsie: Anyone who writes a column about me, can’t be all bad.”
And this, on the other newspaper:
“To Wolfsie: Thanks for the column. Now I can die happy.”
And finally, typed on his letterhead, with his signature:
“To Dick Wolfsie: I’m glad you went straight. I figured you’d be sticking up 7-11s.” –Art Buchwald
In my office is a huge framed display of these notes along with the original photo of us and the warning to stay out of his profession. If my house is in flames, once my wife and cat are safe, that’s what I’m going back inside to save.
This experience taught me to never underestimate the power of an act of kindness. A few brief minutes of Mr. Buchwald’s time made my day. Heck, it made my decade. Mr. Buchwald knew it’s never too late to touch an audience. Maybe without his regular column to write each day, he decided to do it one person at a time.
Mr. Buchwald lived on for several months, even writing a final book, “Too Soon to Say Goodbye.”
After he passed, the New York Times posted a video he made: “Hi. I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.”
Yes, he truly died laughing.
Television personality Dick Wolfsie writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.