Former White House spokesman and well-known conservative writer and commentator Tony Snow died early Saturday of recurrent colon cancer. He was 53.
During Snow’s 17 months as spokesman for President Bush, he was known for his lively banter and repartee with reporters during press briefings, which could sometimes be contentious and pointed but were more often engaging. While a staunch representative for the administration’s policies, he was also willing to admit mistakes and even acknowledge ducking a question, usually making sport of it.
Many in the White House press corps considered Snow’s previous experience as both a radio and television news personality as key to his successful handling of the daily televised press briefings. His charm as well as camera-ready good looks and elegantly tailored suits helped, many felt.
Snow, whose mother died of colon cancer, was first diagnosed and treated for the disease in 2005. With a clean bill of health from his doctor, Snow accepted the White House spokesman appointment in May 2006. But 10 months later, he learned the cancer had returned and was attacking his liver.
Snow underwent a second round of treatment and then returned to the White House. But by September, he said he needed to make more than his $168,000-a-year government salary and signed on as a commentator for CNN. Still, his health did not seem to improve.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow,” Bush said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and their children. The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character.”
“Tony Snow was a highly respected colleague and a friend to many of us,” said CNN/U.S. prexy Jon Klein. “The intelligence and warmth he brought to every conversation will be missed and the example he set of professionalism combined with humanity will be long remembered. We regret that he was not a part of our CNN family longer, and our deepest condolences go out to his family.”
Politics and journalism intertwined throughout Snow’s career. He wrote speeches for President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. Later he headed up the conservative editorial page of the Washington Times and became a syndicated columnist. In 1996, former Republican operative Roger Ailes hired Snow to a then-new cable channel — Fox News — and made him the first host of FNC’s Sunday ayem talker, “Fox News Sunday.”
On Saturday, the cable news channels all picked up on word of Snow’s death, reported to have happened at 2 a.m. at Georgetown U. Hospital. Eulogies and reminiscences continued on air through Sunday, including a moving recollection by Tom Brokaw, who is filling in for the late Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”
Brokaw showed a clip of Russert, who died just last month, interviewing Snow in 2007. Snow said of all the many jobs he held, being White House spokesman was by far his favorite. The clip was poignant, given the recent deaths of both the interviewer and the interviewee.
Also, according to a CNN spokeswoman, Snow appeared on the cable channel in his new role only a handful of times, and the last time Snow was featured, it was by telephone to discuss Russert’s sudden death of a heart attack at age 58.
“I’ve known or worked with a lot of press secretaries, White House press secretaries, in my 40 years in Washington, and I’d have to say that Tony’s the best,” Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”
Snow was born in Kentucky but raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is survived by his wife, Jill Ellen Walker; their son, Robbie; and daughters, Kendall and Kristi.