This is a personal column. It has nothing to do with President Reagan or the other usual suspects at the White House. Maybe it has something to do with journalism. It is a column about my friend Joan Barone, 38, who died of cancer last week at her Washington home.
The obituary told us that Joan had been Phi Beta Kappa at Mills College and a graduate student at Harvard and that she came to Washington in 1970 as a researcher at The Washington Post. It told us that she became a researcher at CBS in 1973, and producer of "Face the Nation," and that she was a producer of "CBS Evening News" when she died.
That is what the obituary said. Here are some things it did not say.
For starters, Joan Barone was an important person in this city where the people who count are supposed to be presidents, senators, lobbyists and media stars. Joan was none of the above. But she had an impact on the influential through the force of her personality and professionalism.
Throughout her life, Joan had an obsession with politics, and it was appropriate that she was discovered by my colleague, David S. Broder, who was lecturing at Harvard in the fall of 1969. Joan was in his seminar and Broder remembers that she said to him, "My major is Zoroastrian philosophy, but I'm really interested in politics." She impressed Broder so much with her attitude and ability that he recommended her for a research opening at The Post the following year.
She also made a big impression on the national news staff of The Post, particularly those of us who came from small newspapers and thought that researchers worked in laboratories. We remember her abundant energy and her willingness to tackle any project, no matter how many others she had under way. We remember her tendency to go beyond the specific question we put to her and answer the questions we should have asked.
At CBS, in the final year of the Nixon presidency, she was an instant asset. Lesley Stahl recalls that she was a "walking encylopedia" on Watergate who had stored in her head the actors, dates and principal events of that fascinating political drama.
Joan's enduring love was "Face the Nation," for which she served as researcher and assistant producer before becoming producer. It will not come as a revelation that visiting reporters sometimes wing it, relying on what we fondly believe to be a store of knowledge rather than on careful preparation. This didn't wash with Joan. We came prepared when she was there because we didn't want to be shown up in the warm-up discussion.
Joan was difficult to ignore. In the days when she was a researcher, reporters were reminded by cue cards late in the show about questions they needed to raise. I can still see her impatiently waving those cue cards with timely reminders such as "China" or "Reagan's health." Usually, we asked the questions.
Skilled politicians who are interviewed on television typically display all the spontaneity of the Wehrmacht. They prefer set speeches to candid answers. Joan thought that the questioning should get somewhere. "Make news," she would exhort reporters. She was a model of the perseverance that prompts public officials to reveal something of themselves and their policies.
Joan fought cancer for a decade before she died. During that time she was a great friend to persons with lesser problems and an inspiration to those of us who think that journalists and politicians too often get away with less than their best. She was generous with her time and advice. She remembered kindnesses and slights. She was a friend for life. She could spot a phony at a distance.
Joan made no mystery of her politics. I hope to give the ideologues no comfort when I say she was a Democrat who shared, with this reporter, the opinion that Hubert H. Humphrey was one of the greatest Americans never elected president. But Joan's fair-mindedness invariably transcended her personal views. She ratified the bedrock journalistic belief that professionalism triumphs over ideology.
Joan's memos were a marvel of meticulousness, written in a handwriting so small it almost required a magnifying glass to read them. She spoke in a small voice. Throughout her life she was remarkably self-effacing, never assuming that people knew of her accomplishments. Well, we remember her, all right. We remember that she had tiny handwriting and a big heart.
We remember that she was a mother and a wife and a devoted daughter and a first-class friend. We remember that she did fine work in pain and fear and made a difference.
Joan Barone left behind the treasure of her memory. We remember her so well that we can never forget her.