Richard Brodsky could recite Shakespeare on demand.
He could do the same with Irish verse.
But it was his jokes I’ll most remember, the ones he’d save till just before the cameras would go live on our weekly television show that ran on FIOS1 News in New York’s Hudson Valley from 2014 to 2019. Richard was the resident progressive; I was the conservative.
As moderator Andrew Whitman would count down — 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — Richard, in the thickest Yiddish accent imaginable, would whisper into my ear something so egregiously funny that when Andrew opened — “Welcome to this week’s edition of ‘Newsbreakers’...”— I’d be utterly defenseless.
Richard didn’t need the advantage; he was far smarter than I. Both he and I knew it, especially he. It wasn’t his Harvard Law debate training, or even the 26 years he’d spent accumulating knowledge as a New York State assemblyman I had to watch out for, it was his lightning-quick mind. Debating Richard was a walk through a minefield; step on the wrong piece of sod, trigger the stray synapse, and encyclopedic stores of information and arguments would arrive at the tip of his tongue.
There was a time I hated Richard — well before I met him. He was on the other side of the aisle and had a reputation for irascibility that wasn’t entirely misplaced. Richard didn’t suffer fools lightly, and he was habitually combative even with people he liked. A former Gannett reporter recalled Wednesday that Richard would answer every press enquiry with a critique of the question posed. It drove reporters mad. But there was a ready wink to Richard that many people missed, a wink he’d flash to a political opponent on set after eviscerating him on a point. And it was genuine; it was warm — if you were quick enough to see it.
The more one got to know Richard, the more one would realize what a gentle man he was. He spoke almost in a whisper about his daughters whom I had the good fortune of meeting at a 70th birthday party three short years ago at the family’s historic Westchester home where he baked bread as a hobby, chopped wood for exercise and played a mean jazz piano, despite having lost half a finger on his left hand to a kitchen accident some years ago. His eyes twinkled with merriment that day as guests sang along to music played by a daughter’s band. Those are the eyes I’ll remember.
It was stunning to learn Wednesday that coronavirus could take a man like Richard, a man so full of mirth and wisdom and vitality and love. I reflexively emailed him, praying he’d dispel the awful rumor. But the email went unreturned, as news of Richard’s death began being reported.
After each show, we’d walk down a long hallway together to our cars. One of his hands would invariably find my shoulder as he imparted a final piece of advice. And then at the lobby, he’d turn and say, “take care of yourself, kiddo” and be gone.
Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.