Edward Walsh, an old colleague of mine, died Friday in Portland, Ore. The Post obituary said he died of lung cancer, which is surely the case. But if you asked me to describe Walsh, with whom I had worked in Annapolis and Jerusalem, among other places, I would say he was lean and sandy-haired – and there was almost always a cigarette dangling from his lips. Ed was a hell of a journalist. He was also a hell of a smoker.
I say that not in condemnation. Ed and I took cigarette breaks together. We were both hooked and being a smoker was an easy matter when we both broke in. My first day at The Post I got a name plate and an ashtray. You could smoke in the newsroom – and many of us did. And smoking was a real help to writers, a crutch of sorts. A drag or two revved you up, hyped you for deadline. The pressure was great. The body consumed nicotine like fuel flung into a steam engine. Great work was done. Good lungs were ruined.
My fury at tobacco companies knows no bounds. They encouraged us all to smoke. They made it romantic, sophisticated, sexy – everything a teenage kid from Chicago (Walsh) or New York (Cohen) wanted to be. They corrupted doctors, not such a hard thing apparently, and they even sent thousands of cigarettes to guys (and some gals) in VA hospitals. As I remember, every home run by the New York Giants meant more cigarettes were on the way.
Ed Walsh was a journeyman’s journeyman. There was not a touch of vanity to him. He did the story and he did it well and he learned very quickly. I was with him on what was his first or second day as the Jerusalem bureau chief of The Post. We drove up to Lebanon, which Israel had just invaded. I was on edge. Eddie was cool. In a day, he had smoothly transformed into a war correspondent. He could master any story. I don’t think he could stop smoking.
Maybe Edward Walsh would have died of lung cancer even if he didn’t smoke. I don’t believe it, but maybe. His habit made some men rich. I don’t know how they can live with themselves. Ed Walsh was a good man. They are not.