I want to say a word or two about Barry Sussman who died June 1 at 87.
Barry was my first editor at The Washington Post, and he was the best editor I ever had. He was also a friend for more than 50 years. Besides that he was the brains and driving force behind The Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, sensing from the very beginning that a simple burglary was much more than it appeared to be.
Hollywood chose to ignore his contribution to American democracy, but for those of us who were part of the story, he was the third hero.
Barry was born and grew up in Brooklyn, and though he was smart in an intellectual way, it was his street smarts that served him so well as a newsman. He had a great eye and terrific instincts. It was as if he could look at a landscape from ten thousand feet and see not only the lay of the land—the topography—but also details that gave it life and vitality. He saw the big picture but never lost sight of the people in it.
We had a routine—a call in the morning where we would talk about what stories might develop during the day. Those conversations would often drift into broader discussions that could lead anywhere. Barry liked gossip.
When a crisis occurred, which is another way of saying when a terrific story happened, Barry was the field commander, calmly receiving information, asking questions, and giving directions. Talking to him in those situations, you always felt reassured that you were talking to someone who knew exactly what he was doing. He made the situation feel under control, giving confidence that no matter what you were able to do, he would make it better.
He had intellectual integrity. He caught me once rejecting someone’s argument on the one hand but accepting points of it when they suited my purpose. He called me on it. He wanted me to be honest and consistent.
Barry didn’t give orders. He made suggestions, and you learned very quickly that his suggestions were good, sometimes brilliant, that they made sense and would be productive. When they weren’t productive, he wasn’t insistent. He didn’t let his ego keep him from seeing the value of others’ ideas.
That was Barry as an editor.
As a friend, he was loyal and dependable. Barry was from Brooklyn, born and bred. He was a graduate of Brooklyn College. He never made a secret of his origins. He was proud of them. Barry was one of the least pretentious people I know. He never pretended to be or wanted to be anyone other than who he was.
He had a sense of humor—a little offbeat sometimes, but funny nonetheless.
He was thoughtful and considerate and kept a sense of proportion about his family, his life and his work—in that order. He never lost sight of his priorities. He loved his wife. He loved his daughters. He loved his extended family. And then he loved his work.
It’s rare in life to have an opportunity to witness much less participate in an historic moment. When that happens, you discover that events can turn on the leadership of ordinary men and women who can do extraordinary things and inspire others to do them as well. And that, too, was Barry.