Like most of you by now, Rush Limbaugh’s death to cancer was announced this morning. I suspected he would work to the end, and we would hear of his death when we least expected it. That was just rush.
I don’t know when I started listening to him. I suspect it wasn’t long before his radio show was syndicated nationwide in 1988. Like many of his lifelong listeners, Rush was able to articulate things we were feeling at the time but couldn’t express himself very well.
As a tribute, I thought I’d share some personal anecdotes about the man. There are so many things that its critics are wrong.
It’s been over 10 years since I called on the show to talk about global warming. I wanted to support his views at the time. It was late on the three hour show that day and he liked what I was saying and asked if I could continue the conversation the next day.
They examined my background overnight and the next day he was looking forward to having an actual climate scientist by his side. That night we had a long email conversation about how similar our backgrounds were.
Within a few days he called me the “chief climatologist of the EIB network”. An unpaid position, but he knew that mentioning my name on the radio was adequate pay; it led to many opportunities to speak in the years that followed. He gave me his “super secret” email address and that is how we would correspond from now on.
He immediately suggested writing my first book, and when it came out he put it on the show a few times. Within a few weeks, his influence got the book on NYT’s bestseller list. When I told him the news, he had a typically funny answer: “Watch out, Oprah!”
For the past 10 years he has always read my e-mails to him and, if necessary, replied. I could usually tell when it was something he was going to use in the air (and it wasn’t usually climate related). It took me years to get used to the idea that he was actually interested in what I had to say.
Shortly after this all started, my family and I were visiting my daughter, who was studying law in Miami, and Rush found out I was in the area. He invited us to his Palm Beach home on a Saturday where his extended Missouri family was attending an annual sports weekend for a soccer game in Missouri. Rush was a very gracious host and his family and relatives are very friendly. He showed me his palace, showed me how his new cochlear implant worked, and gave me a tour of his air-conditioned cigar room. I was impressed with how “average” a man was on a personal level.
But my favorite memory of that visit was David Limbaugh and my daughter (the law student) discussing law around the pool table. Rush listened (he strolled from room to room to make sure all of his guests were taken care of).
I was amazed at the whole experience: Here my daughter was discussing the law with David Limbaugh while Rush listened. I will never forget the surreal feeling I had in that moment.
He then entered the conversation (I don’t remember the specific topic) to explain how the Bush administration had sent people to Palm Beach more than once to change their minds on a subject. But he wouldn’t move.
But that was rush. He wasn’t a “political” animal in the usual sense. He had specific Conservative principles, and if the current Republican president violated them, Rush would not hesitate to point them out.
Rush was the same person, in the air and in the air.
Over the past few years, I’d have hundreds of discussions with Rush, usually not on climate-related topics. I always marveled at his boundless energy … he always took the time to find out what I wanted to say to him. Several times he remembered things that I had told him, that I had forgotten I had told him! I once asked him, “How do you remember so much stuff?” His stupid answer was, “It’s the alcohol.”
Rush had a unique combination of talents that likely won’t come back together. In addition to his overt conservatism, he was able to articulate these principles in a way that resonated with his audience. He had a quick mind, perfect timing on the radio, a great radio voice and knew how to run a business. He had a great sense of humor; Many of Paul Shanklin’s parody songs came from Rush’s ideas, one even from me and one from my wife. I also gave him some advice on how to improve the show (something I told him was confusing to the audience) that he actually took and put into practice.
But the main talent that set Rush apart from the group of radio personalities who wanted to mimic his success was that he was genuinely kind to his callers, even if they disagreed with him. He let her speak. He praised them when the points they made were deserved, even if it seemed like a stretch to praise them. Every liberal point of view that was included in the show was used as a teachable moment.
We’re sorry we lost you so early, Rush.