Perspective: Remembering Ike

I first “met” Ike Skelton in the mid-1970s, when I was a part-time reporter for a local radio station and he was a state senator from west-Central Missouri — outside of our coverage area.

I knew who he was, but really didn’t “work” with him and, when he ran for Congress in 1976, I paid much more attention to other things and issues — including the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate that then-Congressman Jerry Litton won, but died in a plane crash as he headed from Chillicothe to a Kansas City victory party.

I began covering Ike Skelton, and working with him, in 1982, when redistricting (and the loss of one district) resulted in his west-Central Missouri district being merged with “our” Mid-Missouri district, and the general election battle between the “new” guy (Skelton, the Democrat) and “our” first-term Congressman (Wendell Bailey, the Republican).

Skelton won and, over the last 30 years, our paths crossed frequently as reporter and congressman.

As many noted after Skelton’s death almost two weeks ago, from complications of pneumonia — Ike generally was a friendly man.

He would ask about how things were going with you and your family — even if you had just asked him some difficult, probing questions about U.S. foreign policy or military issues.

So, we grew to be “friends” as well as reporter and news source.

Not FRIENDS as in, “I’m in town, we MUST get together for dinner,” or “I’m in Lexington with no plans for the weekend. Why don’t you bring your family over for a visit?”

More like Good Acquaintances (but that phrase doesn’t have much “real” meaning in our society), asking about each other’s health and interest and families.

I quickly learned that HE had the World’s Best Sons and, later, the World’s Greatest Grandchildren.

He DID allow me to brag on my grandson two years ago, shortly after Declan was born.

Comments we’ve all heard over the last couple of weeks focused on his ability to get along with, and work with, practically everybody.

Over the course of my reporting career, I have talked with people who didn’t like Ike — or, at least, didn’t like positions he took in Congress on various issues, including his strong support for the military.

Some of those people were unhappy because I, as a reporter, had not written stories about Skelton’s “wrong” position on some issue, or another — and I didn’t tell them (because reporters usually don’t talk about what we’re trying to do) that I was trying to get information on some of those things.

But, except during election campaigns, few of those people ever wanted to be quoted as being unhappy with Mr. Skelton.

Our working relationship generally was a good one.

He usually was available — or got back to me pretty quickly — when I had questions that needed to be part of a story.

But Ike Skelton also was the source of one of my greatest frustrations as a reporter.

For the better part of two decades — starting while I still was in television, and continuing after I came to the News Tribune (25 years ago, in January) — I tried to get him to talk about what it was like to succeed as a lawyer, husband, father, family man, politician, prosecuting attorney and, ultimately, congressman, while fighting a daily, never-ending battle with your own body because polio when you were a teen-ager robbed you of the use of your arms.

I thought his story would INSPIRE others.

“I don’t want to be looking like I’m seeking sympathy votes,” he said, every time I asked him.

He finally told that story in his way, in his memoir, “Achieve the Honorable,” written with the help of and research by Scott Charton, a former Associated Press Capitol Bureau chief — published only a couple weeks before his death.

I suspect that book will help me understand the many things I didn’t know about my Good Acquaintance.

But one way I want to remember Ike Skelton was highlighted constantly in the remarks made by many in the days after his death — and during last Monday’s funeral.

He was a gentleman.

Not that he didn’t get angry or upset — I saw him bristle more than once at probing questions, especially if they made assumptions he considered to be false.

But he didn’t stay that way.

He could, and did, work with many people who didn’t agree with him or his positions.

He wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought, and why — and he wasn’t afraid to tell you why he changed his mind, when he did.

It seems we all could learn from that practice.

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