Several times a week, Vic Gold and I would discuss all manner of things. Our phone conversations were lively. We'd laugh, and more than once he would yell. But the most enjoyable result of every conversation was the knowledge he would impart; something new, every time. That was Vic, smart and passionate about everything. It was the same with our monthly lunches which sometimes stretched out 2-3 hours. I am going to miss Vic Gold. He added a lot of spice to life, and the world will be less interesting without him.
While few individuals in politics were as passionate as Gold, even fewer could endear themselves to as many people as he had in his many years on this earth. He passionately loved Alabama football, Bear Bryant, his wife Dale, his children Paige, Jamie and Stephen, writing (especially) movies, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, the St. Louis Cardinals, George H.W. Bush, Cajun food and good conversation, not necessarily in that order. He did not like hypocrisy, pomposity, big government Republicans, Dan Snyder, neo conservatism, the United Nations, Donald Trump, the Weekly Standard, some of the people around George W. Bush, again not necessarily in that order. To say Vic suffered no fools goes without saying.
Often times, I thought his temper was in truth, just an act, especially if you caught the twinkle in his eye. Other times, it was real, whether yelling about something George W. Bush had done, like invading Iraq. However, his real passion was writing. He wrote the now legendary, PR as in President and The Body Politic with Lynne Cheney. He wrote provocative articles for National Review, The American Spectator and Washingtonian. For years, he did a point-counterpoint exchange on “Good Morning America” with Frank Mankowitz. He was always well-timed, even as late as last week he was posting for his blog, the perfectly named “The Wayward Lemming.” That was Vic, charting his own course, intense, erudite, a true romantic.
A favorite saying of his was, “Don’t burn bridges in front of you.” That did not mean he didn't appreciate burning bridges in his wake. He was often quotable and always a good companion. He had the rare gift of being provocative yet a great listener, as well. He was incisive, without question, but also insightful; invaluable to every political leader with whom he worked. Most notably, in the grim final days of the failed 1980 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, it was Gold’s fiery and wise counsel that brought a fuming Bush back from the brink of breaking with the GOP and pushed him towards a reconciliation that would unify the party, deliver him the vice presidency and chart his course to the Oval Office. Not bad for someone from the wrong side of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Without Vic Gold, George HW Bush might never have been vice president and later president.
Vic was a product of the rough and tumble New Orleans of the Depression era 1930’s, and he never lost his street perspective. He viewed himself as a Damion Runyon-like character, part erudite writer and part streetwise character. He often used the language of Runyon. When he saw someone wearing a new suit, he might say, “nice threads.” He was an actor in a Frank Capra movie.
And why wouldn’t he see himself that way? He lived that life. One evening he might be dining with Spiro Agnew and the next with Frank Sinatra and some shady underworld figures. He told more than once of prowling Los Angeles or Las Vegas into the wee hours of the evening with Sinatra and the Rat Pack. He told stories that would make you double over with laughter. His friends were an eclectic bunch, from Sinatra and Jim Baker to Stan Musial.
He was a charming rascal, a throwback to a more exciting and interesting Washington, the town of Tommy Corcoran, Lyn Nofziger, Paul Corbin and other characters. Stories over the years about the volatile Gold were legendary. He was Agnew’s press secretary but quit many times in a fit of pique. Unlike the many candidates and leaders he worked with, he had his own code. He knew for years that Agnew had a mistress and could have sold the story, yet never talked about it. That type of integrity has long since been confined to amber in the tell-all consultant world of Washington DC.
On an instinctual level, he knew what the people saw and how they worked and he dedicated that insight to the service of his country, not himself. A rogue, a gentleman, an insider who preferred the fringe; Gold was a man of many things but most enduring and most important to him was to be a man of honor. At a time and in a town where men of such priorities are seen as parochial and providential, this city will have to do with one less. Famed journalist Jim Wooten once joked that the “working definition of insanity in Washington is Vic Gold.”
Where does nearly forty years of a friendship go? Vic was mercurial, hot tempered, and loving. He once told me he was not a hugger as so many men are today, but he’d hug his Daddy, his children, his wife Dale—and me. I mourn Vic Gold and I mourn his generation of Washingtonians. They were the last interesting people who could quote Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammett. They drank, ate and laughed.
Unlike the modern generation of Washington operatives—blow dried, shallow, all talking points, little native intelligence, humorless, little charm and less grace—Vic’s generation was rough and loyal, tough and smart, funny and interesting, principled and sophisticated.
Vic said when you leave Washington, you should leave like a rock star. Vic has left Washington, and he’s left like a rock star.
Vic Gold, RIP.
Craig Shirley is the author of four bestselling books Ronald Reagan's campaigns, including "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980," out March 21, 2017. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, "December 1941," and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.