National Press Club

Club Mourns Loss of Long-time Member Bob Novak, Golden Owl

August 19, 2009

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The National Press Club mourns the loss of its long time member and Golden Owl Robert Novak.

The controversial columnist, at the heart of political storms even into his last years, died Tuesday of brain cancer. He was 78.

Mr. Novak joined the National Press Club in 1957 and had made regular appearances at panels and events until announcing his retirement in July. Most recently, he recounted his remarkable 50-year career in Washington journalism at an NPC Book Rap featuring his memoir, "The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington."

In his memoir, Mr. Novak recalled coming to Washington from Indianapolis.

"For a 26-year-old newspaperman with no relatives or friends in Washington, there was one place to go: The National Press Club," Novak wrote. "It was a place where a nobody like me could meet and listen to the wit and wisdom of such big-time Washington correspondents as Merriman Smith of United Press."

Mr. Novak celebrated 50 years of Club membership and Golden Owl status in 2008. He is also the 2001 recipient of the Fourth Estate Award, the Club's highest honor awarded for a lifetime of extraordinary achievement in journalism.

Former NPC President Don Larrabee says Novak was a regular at the Club throughout his career and often told a story about being at the Club one night when then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson was whooping it up with Texans honoring a famous Texas journalist and former Press Club President Bascom Timmons.

To save the majority leader some embarassment, Mr. Novak helped escort him to the 14th Street lobby and into a taxi, Larrabee said. When he saw Novak at the Capitol the next day, he said, "Well, Novak, saw you at the Press Club last night. Got a little drunk out, didn't it?"

"Bob Novak's loyalty to the National Press Club never diminished in 50 years in Washington, D.C.," NPC President Donna Leinwand said. "He has made an indelible mark on journalism and will be deeply missed."

In his last years, he weathered criticism and criminal investigations for revealing the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The ensuring "leak" investigation led to the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

Nicknamed the "prince of darkness" for his pessimistic view of the politicians he skewered, he also had a notable sense of humor. In his last Gridiron Dinner, a journalists' musical send-up of politicians, Novak played Cheney.

Mr. Novak for more than 45 years wrote a column -- ventually syndicated -- for the Chicago Sun-Times. His TV career began as a co-host with Rowland Evans Jr. on CNN's Evans and Novak. After Evans' death, he continued to appear as commentator on CNN until August 2005 when he lost his temper and swore in an appearance with Democratic commentator James Carville. He appeared on Meet the Press 248 times, according to National Press Club member Betsy Fischer, the show's producer.

He landed his first newspaper job at the Joliet Herald-News and the Champaign-Urbana Courier while attending University of Illinois.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine, and their two children.

Visitation is at St. Patrick's in the City Catholic Church, 619 Tenth St. NW, on Thursday, Aug. 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. A funeral Mass will be at St. Patrick's on Friday, Aug. 21, at 10 a.m. Interment is private.