This is the third installment of a series of posts showcasing the poignant letters Donald Kaul received following his farewell column and my tribute to him. We’ve gotten more than 150 emails and at least two dozen snail-mailed letters and cards so far. Please keep them coming. If you’re a devoted fan, you’ll want to read the first and second of these posts too. As I explained in the first one, please re-send any emails you thought were delivered to OtherWords@ips-dc.org prior to Tuesday July 24. Due to a snafu, they were lost.You may also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.
—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies.
Oh, no, say it isn’t so, Mr. Kaul! So sorry to hear of your heart attack and wish you continued improved health. My best friend sends us your newspaper columns (from Branson, Missouri to Hulbert, Oklahoma) and they are always spot on! We will really miss your voice! We would be delighted if your health and well being would allow you to reconsider retirement!
—Carol and Kelly Fagan, Hulbert, Oklahoma
My wife and I just moved to Arcata, California, so I’m not familiar with your column. I was struck by your “sign off” that was printed in the local paper (The Humboldt County, California Times-Standard) last Friday, enough to send you a message wishing you the best in your retirement. Thank you for sharing your insight about signs of a “heart attack” and how most men react. I hope you have many more years, and only write if it’s something you wish to do. Retirement should be another fun chapter in our lives, something everyone can look forward to, I hope (though who knows what’s in store for the younger generation).
—Mike Slavin, Arcata, California
I was so sorry to read in Liberal Opinion that you have been so ill and would be discontinuing your column for now. I will really miss reading you in LO as yours is the column that I always turn to first thing. This is the second time I have written you as I used to read your column in the Arizona Republic (the only column worth reading). You had retired from writing your column in 2000 and I wished you well but let you know that I would miss your writing, all of which I agreed with – every word. Well, once again I regret that I will not be able to read my favorite columnist, but I care more that you recover your health and enjoy whatever else you do from now on. Please take good care of yourself.
—Barbara R. Iverson, Sedona, Arizona
I’ve never written to you before, but after your “Broken Heart, severed will” article, I just wanted you to know that I for one appreciate you and hope the best for you. I live in one of the most depressing areas of the nation (Louisiana) and am surrounded by right-wing fanatics whose only source of disinformation is Fox news. The local newspapers regularly run Michelle Malkin, Cal Thomas, Ann Coulter, etc. Once in a while they print one of your articles to show how “fair and balanced” they are. You have been a voice of reason and sanity. I have always enjoyed and appreciated your point of view.
I hope you recover quickly from your heart troubles. I also am saddened that you might hang up your pen. If encouragement from your readers is what you want, please accept this as my request that you keep writing until your head hits the table. You are appreciated. If you print this, please do not print my name since I do not want to have my home or car egged.
—A reader in Sulphur, Louisiana
So sorry to hear you are among the persons forced to take a “rest.” But that’s life I guess. I do wish you a speedy and complete recovery from this serious problem but I’m so glad you are a survivor! We do need your type of column! It is cut from a newspaper in Watertown, S.D. and forwarded to me by a very dear friend, after she has enjoyed reading it. So you see it travels far. My best to you…..do have a speedy and complete recovery.
—Joyce Serquinia, Auburn, Washington
I hope you have a good recovery from your heart attack and I wish you all the best in your retirement. I want to thank you for all the years of great writing with great wisdom and perspective on our society. As a lifelong Iowan I looked forward to your column for years. It gave me faith that I was not alone in a sea of morons and religious zealots hell bent on making a profit and imparting their morals on me no matter the cost.
Growing up in the 50s serving in the military and raising my family as a working man gave me a very different perspective that of the ME generation of the past 20 years. Now retired for the past eight years and once again living under Governor-for-Life Terry Branstad. I will miss your work. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
—James (Jay) Jebe
Note: the Des Moines Register recently published a version of this letter too.
Dear Donald: You announced the suspension of your column. You lay the reason at the foot of a heart attack and the general decline of civilization.
My plea to you – suck it up. Yes you’re 77 and yes you’ve had a heart attack and yes the world seems to be hopping into Thelma and Louise’s back seat as they happily drive off the cliff.
You may not fully grasp it, but some of us really need to hear your thoughts now and then. You make us think and smile and chuckle. We don’t have to agree with you to enjoy you.
You survived the demise of 6-on-6 girls’ basketball (some will say you helped move the demise along.) You survived not having Nixon to kick around any longer. You survived a nice little bike ride becoming a production befitting Cecil B. DeMille. You survived the pendulum swing of politics and politicians, and issues and conflicts and day-to-day challenges — like how to light a water heater.
You survived the Register liking you and not liking you.
Through it all, you’ve had a loyal following. The five of us often meet to talk about you.
Just kidding. You touch many; many of whom would not dare to admit it.
Keep writing. For those of us who like you, and maybe particularly for those who don’t.
And one other thing, please update the photo that runs with your column. It looks like a police line-up shot. If you can’t come up with a better picture, use someone else’s.
Thanks and hope to continue reading you over the coffee.
—John Hale, Ankeny, Iowa
Best wishes for a quick recovery from your heart attack. Thank you for RAGBRAI, from a 61-year-old who lost his RAGBRAI virginity last week. The ride, instigated by my riding companion, our 33-year-old son, was to celebrate the first anniversary of MY heart attack.
I have two stents, 20 less pounds (not counting the ones I gained during the ride) and feel terrific. We did the Karras Loop, and I did another century today as part of an annual ride with friends.
You have obviously touched countless thousands of people through your columns and your ride.
May you be able to ride again, soon, as well!
—Mark Hertzberg, Racine, Wisconsin
Recently retired journalist (Director of Photography at Lee’s Journal Times in Racine)
Dearest Columnist Who I Cannot Do Without:
Does the earth stop producing after a volcano?
Does the ground stop renewing after a fire?
Do any of us stop our minds just because our bodies are being contrary?
Obviously the answer is a WHOPPING NO.
We all get challenges in our 70s. Get your recorder going — or Dragon — or whatever and dictate those delicious, brilliant thoughts that no medicine or heart will stop your mind from thinking. Your blood pressure may be better with venting! Just don’t make yourself follow deadlines. Who needs ’em? We’ll read whatever /whenever you send a salvo.
Yours is the ONLY column I have cut, copied & sent through slow mail over the years. I especially loved your column a few months back that was a repeat of a column from years ago re God & Congress. Maybe you can cull former columns for current reading. Sounds fun! Blessings to your recovery and to your family.
I was very sorry to hear about your myocardial infarction for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that word on the street is that heart attacks are no fun, But I’m also disappointed I won’t be reading your thoughts on the state of America for awhile, because they generally provide insight and a perspective that is all too uncommon these days.
I agree with what you opine about 98 percent of the time, and even when I don’t I respect the way you articulate your ideas in writing. Yours is an eloquent, thoughtful voice amidst a sea of shouters; in my only slightly biased opinion that aren’t nearly enough of you and far too many of them!
For right now I’m going to put all of my positive vibes into helping you back to good health. And once that’s accomplished, I look forward to reading your helpful bits of common sense that have been showing up in the Journal Tribune (of Biddeford, Maine) each week for at least as long as I’ve been reading the paper with the masthead that proudly proclaims it is York County’s ONLY daily.
We’ll miss you while you’re on hiatus, but given that its cause is that you’re healing, we can deal with it. Here’s to a quick and speedy recovery!
—Andy Young, Cumberland, Maine
From Margaret E. (“Peggy”) Roney, Avondale Estates, Georgia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please don’t quit us. Even though this is the first time I’ve written, I have ALWAYS looked forward to your column, your wisdom, your comfort that your column gave me. Please tell me how we can continue to read you whenever you do write. We NEED you! THANKS! Your loyal reader.
—Margaret E. (“Peggy”) Roney, Avondale Estates, Georgia, Peggy [email@example.com]
Select Tributes Posted as Comments on the OtherWords website
Donald Kaul is a prophet in the classical sense of that word; God’s spokesperson. I trust that Donald will continue writing only when God is done with him.
—W. Michael Biklen
Add my name to the legions who have followed Don Kaul for decades and who will miss his “dark wit” if the worst is true and this is truly good-bye. When I moved to Iowa in 1976, Kaul’s columns entertained and educated me. I had the good fortune to meet the man during RAGBRAI in 1983, when I was riding across the state as a young mother escapee of three boys under the age of 3. Something I said made it into his column that day. I’ve enjoyed his columns and was delighted to find him on OtherWords after he left the Des Moines Register.
Life takes funny turns. I am now the editor of a weekly community paper in Florida and through OtherWords have enjoyed sharing some of Kaul’s insights and musings with our readers.
I too hope that he once again finds himself willing to share his gifts with us all, but if he’s really and truly retired for good, we all have decades of insightful columns to be thankful for.
—Missy Layfield, editor of the Island Sand Paper, Fort Myers Beach, Florida
Donald: We keep saying hello and goodbye. When you tried to retire 12 or so years ago, I wrote you that I hoped you would change your mind and return. I ranked you then with Molly Ivins and Mike Royko as one of my three favorite op-ed page columnists in the Kansas City Star. When you relented and returned, I wrote you again, suggesting, as I recall, that we would need you badly in the battle to stop George Dubya. You wrote back promising to try. It wasn’t your fault that he won. Now you say a heart attack has prompted you to retire again — maybe. I’m saddened by your heart attack, thrilled that you survived it and hope you’ll be back soon. Another Republican in the White House we don’t need. Your wit and wisdom is needed again for the fight. Don’t rush it, but as soon as it seems physically advisable, please resume your column. With Mike and Molly long gone, you have no rivals for my affection. My Mondays on the Internet won’t be as rich until you do.
—Harry Jones, Evanston, Illinois
If you do stop, I’ll understand but here in Traverse City, I’ll miss your column greatly. Frankly, I’ve had to cut back on following politics as intensely as I used to for the sake of my mental health and I’m only 50.
—Sally Sheldon, Traverse City, Michigan
I’m glad to hear you had good medical care, and I’m glad that you’ve written about how this is the only one of the 30 wealthiest nations that considers health care a commodity rather than a human right. Now get well, and if you want to stop writing the column, so be it. I’ve been following you since I was an Iowa high schooler (and a page in the Iowa House of Rep., class of 1965, when Chuck Grassley was a squeaky-voiced freshman). I have yellowed clippings of Over The Coffee columns that still are zingers. You, sir, belong in the Journalism Hall of Fame. If there isn’t one, let’s start one and put you in it.
—ExIowan on Left Coast
Back in the late 70s, the Mason (Iowa) City Globe Gazette provided a list of about 2 dozen columnists and asked readers to rate them. Donald took first place. I always looked forward to his columns. He reminded me a little of Mike Royko although he had a style all his own. Even if he never got a Pulitzer, he deserves some kind of recognition. I’m grateful for all his wonderful columns and wish him all the best. Get well Donald. I hope we hear from you again even if it’s only as a guest columnist every now and then.
I grew up listening to my father chuckle at the breakfast table, and then read “Over The Coffee” aloud to my mother as we ate. Once I figured out that the newspaper consisted of more than just the funnies, Mr. Kaul’s column was always the first thing I read. I’m just having a difficult time imagining life without being able to read Mr. Kaul’s witty — and often caustic — comments on current events. Politics has become so depressing, and I always looked forward to being able to laugh about it…even just once in a while.
I am 80 years old, a Korean vet, a college grad, a father of four, a grandfather, and, a great-grandfather. As I read your article I could not help but agree and strongly endorse these sentiments. I feel as if I have fallen into the rabbit hole and want to wake up. Is America done in less than 300 years, when Rome lasted 1,000? Thanks for sharing your insight.
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.