Fund for Students Honors Truly Civil Public Servant Tony Snow ’77
Tony Snow ’77 would have trouble finding his place in Washington, D.C., today. He worked for two Republican presidents who both disagreed with Democrats but collaborated with them on critical legislation.
He was a conservative who hosted “Fox News Sunday” but also worked for CNN and appeared on NPR and ABC, rather than insult and dismiss them. He was a White House press secretary who routinely sparred with reporters but also was friends with many of them.
Snow died in 2008, and his reputation for civility amid contentiousness sparks nostalgia in a political climate that has deteriorated to extreme polarization and where some news outlets unabashedly eschew neutrality and instead echo partisans.
Merideth Durden Dolan, Snow’s close friend and fellow Davidson alum, wants to ensure that his impact and unmatched work ethic are honored. She has created the Tony Snow Professional Development Fund, awarded through the Center for Career Development to fund professional development opportunities for students, ranging from research conferences to internships in healthcare or on Wall Street.
“Tony went from eating ketchup on cornflakes as a poor college student to taking regular flights on Air Force One and being a nationally syndicated columnist,” said Dolan, who graduated in 1980. “Davidson gave him the freedom to major in philosophy and to become an exceptional writer and public speaker. He was gutsy, and he had a beautiful mind. This fund will support students who have the same potential to do something great.”
The fund also reflects Snow’s life, as he attended Davidson thanks to generous support, including the Charles A. Dana Scholarship. His father was a high school social studies teacher, in Cincinnati, and his mother, a nurse, died of colon cancer when Snow was 17, the same disease that would claim his life.
“Tony Snow was a man of uncommon decency and compassion,” President George W. Bush said in his eulogy of Snow, his close friend and press secretary. “He was a devoted husband, a proud and loving father, an adoring son, a beloved colleague and a wonderful role model and friend. In a life that was far too brief, he amassed a rare record of accomplishment. He applied his gifted mind to many fields: as a columnist, newspaper editor, TV anchor, radio host and musician. He had the sometimes challenging distinction of working for two presidents named Bush.”
Snow also served as chief speechwriter and deputy assistant to President George H.W. Bush.
Making It Happen
Dolan sees her support as “filling in the mortar.” What are the expenses students can’t cover? That’s where her gift comes in. Several students have received support from the fund, including political science and economics double major Henry Meza Flores ’21.
This summer, before starting his job as a consultant with Point B, which helps organizations in the areas of customer engagement, growth investments, workforce experience and operations excellence, Meza Flores will attend Dartmouth’s Tuck Business Bridge Program, which is designed to prepare top liberal arts and science undergrads and recent grads for challenging careers in business.
“The Tony Snow Fund is paying for almost everything associated with this experience,” Meza Flores said. “I’ve had wonderful experiences with opportunities like the Davidson in Washington program and a few internships, including one with Point B. I’m grateful to be able to learn more about management and the corporate world—excellent preparation before starting my position.”
He chose Davidson after making strong connections with faculty and staff, including President Carol Quillen, during a campus visit.
“I came to Davidson with political science interests, and my interest in business has grown over the course of my time here,” he said. “For a while, I was dead set on law school, and that may still be something I consider down the line. After attending Davidson in Washington my sophomore year and working for a non-profit organization alongside several consultants, I was inspired to go in that direction first.”
Meza Flores, a New York native, receives support from The Davidson Trust and is a Golden Door Scholar.
Honoring His Life’s Work
Snow may have struggled to put the financial pieces together as a student, but as a prominent scholar and campus leader, he excelled. His involvement ranged from the Student Government Association to Delta Sigma Rho-Tau Kappa Alpha Fraternity to the Honor Council to the Pep Band. He worked as a hall counselor and at the library, where he’d complete his homework on the weekends, and was initiated into Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.
He played trombone, flute, saxophone and guitar, and in his later Washington life, jammed in a cover band with guest musicians from Jethro Tull and the Doobie Brothers.
Following Davidson, he taught high school physics and took graduate courses at the University of Chicago. His career as a newspaper editorial writer took him from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Detroit, and he served as editorial page editor of The Washington Times before he reached the White House.
Snow’s work appeared in hundreds of newspapers, including USA Today, and he was a sought-after commentator on programs like Good Morning America and Face the Nation.
One of his gifts was working across political lines—he was a Republican but also a former Democrat—and this critical work did not go unnoticed by colleagues like Ann Compton, who covered Washington for ABC News for 40 years, including seven presidents as White House Correspondent.
“Tony Snow was a gifted communicator. He was not in the report-the-facts tradition of those who cover the news. Tony had ideas and principles which were the lenses through which he saw the world. His editorial writings were filled with thoughts that encouraged his readers to look afresh at contemporary life,” she said. “It is easy to say Tony Snow was a charming, optimistic, engaging personality. More than that, to me, Tony was friend with a grace and a generosity of spirit that truly set him apart. I recall toward the end of his life, when his own health was failing, he summoned the strength to comfort me about an illness in my family—a small moment which sprang from Tony’s own generous heart.”
Snow is survived by his wife, Jill, and their three children, along with the memories held by colleagues and competitors who, like Dolan, wonder if they ever will see anyone like him again in the nation’s capital.
“Being sick,” Dolan said, “made him burn even brighter.”
A Legacy of Decency
In 2008, for reasons I can no longer remember or even imagine, Brad Paisley, the country music star, invited my wife Mari and me to a concert in the Washington area, and asked us to hang out with him in his tour bus after the concert. He was, and presumably still is, interested in public affairs, and during his elaborately produced performance, he put up on a large screen photos of various people he admired. One of them was Tony Snow, who died the day of the concert.
I mention this because it suggests the broad range of those who responded to Tony’s decency, affability, and immunity to the journalistic tribalism and shrillness that has now overtaken the profession. He had a fine sense of fun, and a talent for friendships that were not impeded by his participation in politics. And this participation did not lessen the quality of his journalism. On the contrary, it made it better because he had seen the world of politics and government from both sides and could empathize with those who wield responsibility.
There is nothing more perishable than the reputation of Washington media types. But not in the case of Tony, who still is widely and fondly remembered, perhaps because he is emblematic of a better time.
-George F. Will, political columnist for The Washington Post, regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News, Pulitzer Prize winner