Remembering Mr. Broder

A journalist shares memories of her mentor, David Broder, AB’47, AM’51.

By Suzannah Gonzales, AB’98

David Broder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who died March 9, has been called the dean of the Washington press corps who set the standard for political reporting. To me he was just Mr. Broder, a mentor.

David Broder

I first met Mr. Broder—I could never bring myself to call him “Dave,” even though his greeting was always “Dave Broder”—in the late 1990s when I worked as a research assistant to Bob Levey, AB'66, then a metro columnist at the Washington Post. It was my first job out of college. Washington and the Post newsroom were intimidating but exciting places during the Lewinsky scandal.

I summoned the courage to approach Mr. Broder's office, which was messy with stacks of paper, to introduce myself. My voice shook. I was a wannabe reporter with close to zero experience. I was sure he was busy and did not have time to talk to me.

He may have been busy, but Mr. Broder welcomed me into his office, and was kind and down-to-earth. His glasses and the pens in his pocket made him human and endearing. That year and periodically over the next several, he took the time to talk with me about journalism and my career, giving me advice about becoming a reporter. While generations and decades of experience separated us, we had a few things in common: we were both from the Chicago area, liked the Cubs and Wrigley Field, were graduates of the University of Chicago, and passionate about journalism.

He suggested that we go out for Cokes, I remember. He took me to lunch. And he laughed while I stood embarrassed when someone in the elevator commented on my platform shoes. (Why did I wear platform shoes to my lunch with David Broder? I will never know. All I can say is that I was young and that Mr. Broder was nice to look past this.)

He helped me land my first full-time reporting job at the Providence Journal, calling an editor there to put in a good word for me as they made their decision. “Yes, she’s still a work in progress,” I remember he recounted of his conversation with the Providence editor. A “but” and other words followed; I wish I could remember what. Whatever they were, they worked. When I shared the news with him that I got the job, he gave me a hug.

We met again in Providence for breakfast when he was in town for a conference. He greeted me warmly and ate Raisin Bran. He told me that the death of legendary publisher Katharine Graham, AB’38, had hit his newsroom hard.

He returned my calls from Florida, where I moved after Providence for another reporting job, and from Austin, where I moved next. We last corresponded about five years ago. I wrote him a letter, congratulating him on winning an alumni award. He wrote me back. He always seemed interested in hearing from me and knowing what I was doing.

I’m not sure why Mr. Broder helped me over the years, but I am grateful for his guidance and encouragement. I’m sad that he’s gone, but I feel lucky to have known him and count him as a mentor.

March 18, 2011