My Janet Reno
As the eulogies roll in you'll be hearing a lot, kind and unkind, about my dear Aunt Janet in the coming weeks but please let me tell you about the person, not the public figure, that I knew and what she meant to me.
There was no more honest, incorruptible, moral, strong, solid and fair human being that ever lived. That is not hyperbole, just a straight fact. There was no grey area with her. Life, and right or wrong, was black and white. When we learned in school how our government should work and how our representatives should behave and how the world should be I can honestly say that she more than any other person or public figure I ever met completely and utterly embodied that spirit and meant it with every fiber of her being.
We grew very close over the last several years especially after working on the Song of America project which I'm so happy to say made her very proud. She considered it one of her finer achievements which is really saying something. We would often sit on the porch of the modest house her mother built pondering the peacocks that wandered the "Reno ranch" as the family called it and shoot the breeze about politics, music, nature, human nature, comedy (she enjoyed the Daily Show, Mr. Colbert and Carlos Mencia) and the vagaries of life. She was a spiritual person who believed in a higher power and the power of the human spirit. She loved old folk songs, especially "Red River Valley" which I would sing for her over and over again. I was fortunate enough to say my goodbyes to her last Christmas when we had become aware the twilight was coming and sing to her several songs she loved including "Little Drummer Boy" which put a twinkle in her eye.
I learned a great deal from Aunt Janet and she had a profound effect on me, how I dealt with life and business, and I know she made me a far, far better person from the first day we met. I think she had that effect on a lot of people witnessed by the stream of old friends, colleagues and some folks she only met or dealt with briefly who came by in the last year to tell her how much she meant to them and how she affected their lives.
One time while promoting the Song of America together we had done a string of interviews one day and her Parkinson's was getting to her. She asked if I could cancel the last TV crew for another day. I told her that they were probably already on their way but I could call tell them and say we ran late with the last interview. The entertainment business is slippery, they'd understand. She looked at me with that trademark cold, deep, distant stare and said, "Ed, there's no slippery with the truth". Understood. She toughed it out and did the interview.
We'd often drive her around on her time off, which was rare as she was a workaholic, and if the speed limit was 55 and I went even 56 she would turn and just look at me. One time while she was Attorney General we went for ice cream with the FBI detail in tow about a half-hour from her apartment in Washington. The kid behind the counter got a little flustered and when we got back home we realized none of us had paid for it. So...off we went back to the ice cream shop. The manager told us not to worry that it was on him but she said, "No, I got this". As usual, it was the right thing to do.
That's a phrase you'll hear a lot over the next few days and weeks, “the right thing to do”. She always told us, and her people at the Justice Department, to not do what was popular, not do what gets us ahead, not do what's expected of you but always, always, do what's right. That's the main thing I, and many others who were fortunate enough to get close to her, will remember to our last breath. I have grown to carry it with me every day.
So to those people who have criticized her in the past and I'm sure will criticize her in death I say I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry for your misplaced anger and your lack of understanding of our system and your lack of compassion for your fellow man. I'm sorry you needed a target to vent and I'm sorry you chose the wrong person. But know this; she didn't hate you nor anyone and she was your Attorney General, she was your guardian and she believed in all that is good and right in this world and would fight for it for everyone despite whether they liked her or not.
Thank you Aunt Janet, for your service, your humility, your dedication, your determination and your commitment. The world is a better place because you were in it. And I'll miss you very, very much.