Guest Column3/19/09

Remembering a ‘good day’ with an uncommon American

March 19, 2009

By Edwin Cooney

“Hello, Americans,” said Paul Harvey, but this time he wasn’t on the radio. He was emerging from a small aircraft he had flown from Chicago to a small airport in the Finger Lakes region of central New York state.

It was Saturday, Sept. 26, 1964. Paul Harvey was invited to speak to those attending the annual Grape Harvest Festival at Naples, N.Y. It was shortly after 3 p.m. when he arrived. I was invited to ride into Naples with Robert Simpson, a local businessman, and his wife, who were acting as Mr. Harvey’s official hosts.

The approximately 30-minute drive into Naples from the airport through rich central New York farmland was pleasant. I sat in the very rear of the station wagon. Mr. Harvey sat in front of me in the back seat while Mr. and Mrs. Simpson sat up front. Although anxious to ask many questions, I minimized my conversational participation since I was a guest of the Simpsons.

“Mr. Harvey,” I asked, “I know President Johnson is considerably ahead in the current presidential campaign, but do you think Senator Goldwater can catch up?”

“His campaign hasn’t really caught fire yet, Ed,” Mr. Harvey replied. Then, perhaps realizing that his answer was discouraging to me, he continued with that cheery optimism in his splendid voice, “It still could. There’s time. It just hasn’t, as yet.”

Periodically, as we rode through the fall foliage, I’d ask Mr. Harvey about something he had said during one of his broadcasts. Finally, he said to me: “You know, Ed, you’d make somebody a good wife. My wife is always reminding me, Paul, you said this and you said that.”

Most 18-year-old boys, me included, don’t get much pleasure from the suggestion that they’d make someone “a good wife,” but this was Paul Harvey, after all, and he did chuckle as he said it, so I chuckled in response.

Finally, we arrived at the place where we’d have dinner and where Paul Harvey would address us. I rejoined my mother — she had arranged everything — our school principal Mr. Paul Ruhland and his son David, and then Mr. Harvey went on his way.

Of course, I would have liked more time with him, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had met, shaken hands, chatted and had my picture taken with one of the finest men — and voices — in broadcasting.

As the evening wore on, I met two local Rochester, N.Y. celebrity newsmen from WHAM (“1180 on your AM dial”) and their assessment of Paul Harvey seemed to me to be a tad reserved. To Ray Hall and Dick Tobias, Paul Harvey wasn’t a newsman, he was a news “reader.” He gets all of his material from the wire services, he doesn’t go out and seek information from primary sources, they insisted. However, they heartily agreed that he was “an excellent broadcaster!”

As for Mr. Harvey’s speech, it was entertaining and inspiring. He said that America is the greatest nation in the history of the world and it can continue to be so as long as Americans stick to the Ten Commandments and the Constitution. They must remember that liberty is the business of the people, not of the government. Only through eternal vigilance, he asserted, would we successfully “… keep on keeping on” — a key phrase in Paul Harvey’s lexicon.

Saturday, Sept. 26, 1964 was just past Paul Harvey’s 46th birthday. It was within only the 14th year of what would be his 58-year ABC broadcasting career. His brief television stint and his “Rest of the Story” feature were yet some years away — as was receiving the Medal of Freedom from President George Walker Bush in 2005.

My political views would be in tune with Mr. Harvey’s for another decade or so, but eventually they would shift. The irony is that as a 1964 Conservative Republican, I found his assessment of the GOP’s chances for victory too objective. As my own views became increasingly liberal, however, I found Paul Harvey’s points of view too rigid and, even worse, too partisan. As a broadcaster, though, he had few peers. Paul Harvey deserves to be right up there with Edward R. Murrow in the front row of Broadcasting’s Hall of Fame.

Harsh as his judgment could occasionally be, his social and political pronouncements were void of personal attack.

More than 44 years have passed since that happy Sept. 26. I still possess the record album I purchased called “The Testing Time” and the printed evening program he autographed for me that night after his address. The picture taken of him and me standing by his plane is, of course, still in my wallet.

“Good day,” was Paul Harvey’s closing signature of every news and commentary broadcast and, as you can imagine, those two words perfectly describe Saturday, Sept. 26, 1964.


Paul Harvey died at the age of 90 on Feb. 28, 2009. Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.