Tonight was Ivan Scott’s memorial service. I only got four hours of sleep the night before but there wasn’t any question I was going, so I bucked up and walked down to the Catholic Church on 24th and Pennsylvania. Ivan, who went to Princeton, served in Korea and then went on to cover wars as a CBS radio correspondent. I was fascinated by his nine lives and asked him what it was like reporting from a war zone.
“There is nothing more thrilling than having bullets buzz by your head and shells flying in the air. It’s the only place a reporter should be if they want to cover the news.”
For many reasons I believed and admired him.
But let me back up for just a second. I met Ivan, Helen (Thomas), (Rahubir) Goyal and Connie (Lawn) at a dinner last May 17th. I’ll always remember the date, the moment, the evening. In many ways it changed the course of my life. It also confirmed my direction towards journalism in a profound way.
The dinner, which I won’t get into now, had me sitting right across Helen. Thankfully, my Aunt Debi was there, who served as the perfect generational liaison. I asked Helen if we could have lunch sometime and she said “Sure. Give me a call and we’ll have a Coke.” And that’s how it all started.
My First Memorable Conversation with Ivan
At one point, Helen and Debi danced off to the bathroom together and I was left at the table with Ivan. In his seersucker suite, brown rimmed circle glasses and warm smile, he turned to me and got serious.
“You know, young lady, she’s a legend. She’s a legend in this town.”
I looked at him a bit shocked. He was looking out for Helen like a sister, a member of his family and for a second my enchantment faded. I understood. And although I barely knew the extend of her history, I agreed.
“Yes, I know.”
Ivan went on to take me under his wing, taking me to drinks and dinners, allowing me a rich conversation where I could ask anything about his life, history, war, and relationships. He was, by all means, a mentor who went beyond the call of duty. Last week, after a brief illness, he passed away.
Ivan’s Memorial Service
When I walked into the church, I noticed Helen was in the back sitting alone. I decided I’d sit next to her, but first went over and lit a candle. Somehow through my tenuous spirituality, I asked my Mom to sit with me for strength. Funerals, as I know, bring unpredictable, and sometimes, unwelcome emotion.
I went over and slide down the pew with my street team backpack. Helen smiled and welcomed me. After a minute, she broke the silence.
“I didn’t even know. I was away,” she said.
Her make-up was done and her hair curled. There was a sadness about her so I didn’t really say much.
After the ceremony I watched Tony Snowe walk up to her, who had just consoled Ivan’s wife, to give her a friendly stroke. It was a moment of grief for all those around us, but in particular, I thought, to Helen, who had lost a friend who took with him so much heart and knowledge about her life.
She kept an eye on me as we walked out the Church and said in a low voice, “Let’s go get a coffee or a drink.” She extended her hand for me to hold, and told me, “I’m still wobbly from the long flight (from Dubai).”
So I escorted her, through fans of people (I know this because of the nervous compliments people came to give her) and to the curb where, a man who had sat behind us, offered us a ride. During the ceremony she had turned to him, a Navy officer at the Pentagon, and said, “You have a wonderful voice.”
We went to the Tabbard Inn, the last place I had met Ivan, and had our usual gin and vodka. I told her all about the Winter Soldier event. She was on my every word, especially when I told her about Conscientious Objector, Camilo Mejia.
“He said,” I told her, “that it is difficult being a CO in the military. But that ‘war, is the best argument against war.”
She smiled and looked very pleased. “That’s an incredible quote.”
On our way out, she had barely made it to the steps when she went into a rant about White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino.
“Torture…torture…’we don’t torture’ she says….’we don’t torture?!’ Please!”
Helen didn’t know it but a couple was standing behind us. They couldn’t get through as Helen had paused to finish her rant. I made eye contact to let the woman know to go the other way around.
I figured she had no idea who Helen – or I – for that matter was, and would be on her way. Instead, she walked down the steps and positioned herself in front of Helen.
“Ms. Thomas, I have never been in your presence before. My husband and I were so pleased when you walked in… and…I…I just wanted to say Thank you, for everything you’ve done.”
Helen, as if almost granted these moments by sheer reparation of her age and societal contributions, lit up, like every other time a person thanked her.
“Thank you so much. Thank you so much,” she gently and sincerely said.
Before the woman could walk two steps away, Helen got back to what she was saying to me.
“ ‘Torture…’ We don’t torture! What do you mean, ‘we don’t torture?!’ ”
“Helen,” I said with a big smile, “you sure don’t miss a beat!”
She paused and let out a big laugh.
“I guess I don’t!”
And in that moment, Ivan, a person who knew how to laugh despite the realization that everything in the world is not always right, was in some way there.