- NUVO's news editor reflects on the passing of one of Indiana's greatest writers, who'd authored tens of thousands of letters, three books and countless ground-breaking legislative efforts during his 30-year career, which spanned four decades, in the U.S. Congress.
Andy Jacobs Jr. — in addition to being a great Hoosier writer — was a vegetarian. Not for any particular health reason, just because he loved animals and didn't want to eat them. At my first meeting with Andy, I handed him a chicken sandwich.
It happened a few weeks after I returned to Indiana in the summer of 2011 to take the NUVO news editor job. Overseeing Andy's weekly "Thought Bite" item would be part of my editorial duties, so Jim Poyser, my managing editor at the time, advised that it would be a good idea to pay him a visit. Andy informed me a war wound had pretty much bedridden him, so we agreed I'd pick up a couple of sandwiches and join him bedside.
Who knew veggie brisket tasted so much like chicken? I was mowing down on my sandwich, completely oblivious to the fact I was eating the meatless cuisine. About a quarter through his sandwich Andy says, "I think this is chicken." Indeed, he was right.
"Holy moly," I thought. "This guy is gonna hate me or have me fired for defiling him with the flesh of an innocent animal." Obviously, I didn't know Andy yet. He laughed it off and regaled me with hours of stories; he showed me the papers he picked out of the trash of a fellow member of Congress that had been sitting in the hall of one the office buildings — a stack of stationery from the House Un-American Activities Committee.
He gave me The 1600 Killers: A Wake-Up Call for Congress. [Later I'd be the happy recipient of Slander and Sweet Judgment: The Memoir of an Indiana Congressman and also The Powell Affair: Freedom Minus One. A sample of his title page signing, "For my wiser (than I'd anticipated) editor, Rebecca. Andy"]
As I was leaving that first day, his wife, Kim, smiled and said, "Thanks for getting him to eat some protein." That was my introduction to two of the most exceptional and gracious people I've ever met. That day I also met Brutus, the last of a legion of Great Danes that kept watch over Andy and his family, who thoroughly sniffed out all intruders into his territory. Andy's Dane line started with C-Five (see picture), who Jacobs wrote in Slander "grew like a government contract," particularly Lockheed's C-5 Galaxy airship, a famous federal budget-busting project - the first U.S. air program to exceed its budget by $1 billion (in 1967 dollars, that'd be about $7 billion in today's).
- Courtesy of the Jacobs family
- C-Five, the first of a legion of Great Danes to look after Andy and his family, was a favorite of the Washington press corps. Andy's book Slander contains a funny story about the episode that led to the dog's exile in Indiana.
I began dropping by to hang out and watch movies. He loved the golden age of cinema and still warmed at the thought of the famous actor Gregory Peck, who in the '81-'82 primary season recorded a campaign endorsement for him: "Andy Jacobs, the congressman who never took the full Congressional salary or used the franking system for thinly veiled political mail, the congressman with the second-lowest office expenses in the country, may never be a congressman's congressman, but he is the people's congressman. And that's what counts."
Who needs the PACs when you have Gregory Peck? Still, Andy was the only Indiana congressman in the 20th century to be elected by colleagues to the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means — part of a select few to control the purse strings of the federal government. So despite his idiosyncrasies, one could argue that he grew to be the people's congressman and a congressman's congressman. (Though I can imagine Andy, an avid grammarian, offering a correction on the wording of the latter distinction: a congressperson's congressman.)
Having had more than one experience with political "handlers" who take seemingly sadistic pleasures in their gatekeeping duties with dismissive and rude words as they block journalists from requested access to elected officials, sitting for hours unsupervised with a man as accomplished as Andy was surreal. The feeling of dumbstruck awe never left me, though I came to feel as comfortable around Andy and Kim as I did my own family, and that was cemented when we became neighbors.
Before my family had even fully unpacked, Andy's son Steven and one of his friends were at the gate with a load of firewood for us. Just another one of the random acts of kindness of which legions of people recalled as word of his death spread. "Auntie Karen," a Jacobs' family friend who returned to Indy from California to support them through the grieving, remembered how, without her knowledge, Andy jumped straight off an airplane from D.C. and went to her back yard to chop and stack wood after one of her neighbors began complaining about a downed tree that had fallen in Karen's yard during a tornado. "That's your congressman at work," Karen later remarked to the complainant.
Sometimes I carried my carte blanche access with the Jacobs to the extreme. Like the time when, after a few glasses of wine or some such other dangerous seductress, I decided to swing by the Jacobs' to implore Andy to make an exception to his daily appointment with the cable news or the old movies we could recite by heart. [He highly commended Gentlemen's Agreement, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and Trading Places, by the way.] It was the spring of 2012 and NUVO was planning a massive party at City Market to celebrate its acquisition and re-launch of Indiana Living Green. Watching a true Hoosier legend lay at home made me feel sad that more people would not have the opportunity to know him, to say a million more times, "Thank you, sir, for caring about us and working your darndest for a kinder, gentler civilization." Several such people interested in meeting him and/or giving him love would be attending the ILG party — interactions I felt certain he'd enjoy.
"Please get out of bed and come Downtown, Andy," I said with such emotion that I think I made Kim (who remembers the days when he not only got out of bed, but took her to White House Christmas parties) cry.
He said something to the effect of, "Ms. Townsend, have you been drinking?"
"Yes, sir," I admitted, probably wondering whether I'd finally pushed him past the proverbial line. But no, he chatted with me for a while longer and we said, "Good night."
Andy stayed in bed the next evening, which I — upon encountering the catacomb tours, beer lines and pulsing beats of the dance floor at the ILG party as it played out — realized was the best decision for him. And a pleasant surprise: Who should walk into the party but Kim, Andy Junior Jr. and his girlfriend Kate.
Like the good Marine and frugal conservationist that he was, Andy rationed the physical strength he had remaining in his final year and a half. He did, in fact, get out of bed when the time was right. In a remarkable style, he arrived at what qualifies to me as one of the absolute best days to be a Hoosier I've ever experienced: Armistice Day 2012 at the Indiana War Memorial, exploring war and peace in honor of Kurt Vonnegut. So many strands of Indiana culture were weaving together in the building that day that the energy was magical. Author Dark Rain Thom, the Water Panther Clan Mother of the East of the River Shawnee of Ohio was there, accompanied by her husband, literary giant James Alexander Thom (whose remembrance of Andy we are honored to publish in this issue). NPR's Steve Inskeep, a Carmel native, was home to emcee. Dan Wakefield, Mark Vonnegut, Julia Whitehead. ... And Andy. Glowing.
He was one of the last to speak on that amazing day.
"America: Where she is right, glory; where she is wrong, courage," he said. He shared two war stories to illustrate one underlying point: "Even in the savagery of war, there can be humanity." In short, the karma of a C-ration gifted to an emaciated Chinese POW sliding down Korean Hill 902 in the custody of Jacobs' men during the Korean War paid dividends when Chinese gunners offered a free pass to Jacobs and fellow soldiers carrying a litter with their dead commander out of a battle zone just a few weeks later.
Jacobs concluded his presentation with a "Thought Bite." He said, "The Marine Corps is not what it used to be. In fact, it never was."
One might imagine a book could be written about the man who led an overnight debate at the U.S. Capitol in protest of the Vietnam War ... and ultimately helped extract the U.S. from not just an unwinnable situation — but a quagmire in which so much had been unnecessarily lost. Indeed, Andy wrote that book with The 1600 Killers. In it he taught us the term "war wimp," his term for a person with no military service who votes to send others to war.
His military service, his commitment to listening and encouragement, his lack of fear and his Great Dane all helped justify another surreal Townsend invasion of his bedside. In November of 2011, I picked up a veteran on the side of North Meridian Street. Ron Zaleski was walking across the country carrying a placard that read "18 vets a day commit suicide." After interviewing him in my car, and picking up a pizza to split with him for lunch, I thought, "I've got to take this guy to Andy." So in we walk to his bedroom. I introduced the men. They talked. Andy gave Ron a copy of The 1600 Killers. The picture I always ran with his "Thought Bites" was a candid shot taken as he signed that book for Zaleski, propped up on his Marines' Semper Fi pillow case. No makeup, special lighting, hair adjustments. A bag of Funyuns at the ready off to his side.
- Rebecca Townsend
- Andy signs his "1600 Killers" for the "barefoot vet" Ron Zaleski.
That Armistice Day when Andy went to the Indiana War Memorial, one of the "Vets Reclaim Armistice Day" speakers, Dr. Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, said, "Recovery always happens in community ... [where] people who've been in war know it's safe to tell their stories," explaining that the recipient of the vet's story must hear, believe and remember. "Then the person who heard [must] retell the veteran's story to the point where the vet can say somebody listened, somebody cared."
Andy listened. Andy cared. My favorite kind of Christian — the type more apt to serve his fellow humans with kindness than condemn lifestyle choices.
He rarified the air — made people believe they were worthy of great accomplishments. He chose his battles, had faith he was fighting for truth, justice, freedom and the American way (arguing against popular opinion and in favor of a balanced budget amendment way before it became tea party chic, for example). It's not always easy to take the path less traveled, but worth the effort for the character it builds.
I received the news that Andy's time on this earth was fleeting in an email from Kim, informing me that he might miss some deadlines as he was in hospice care and that doctors said the end was near. I felt like I was on another planet. In reality I kind of was — South Florida. It took me a bit to work up the courage to respond. I excused myself after breakfast with my family and stepped outside the little Cuban diner on the Overseas Highway in Key Largo and called. Kim laid it out for me: Andy was indeed about to check out from his earthly body. He wasn't in pain. He was at home, surrounded by family. I was NOT to travel back. I should enjoy time with my family and post lots of pictures to Facebook.
Someone had said something to her about being extraordinary — about how extraordinary people stood on the shoulders of people who laid out the path before them. She said he'd laid a mantle on my shoulders (among so many others) that must never be forgotten. Typical chip off the Jacobs' block, encouraging me even as I was attempting to comfort and support her. I asked if I could talk to him. A few minutes later, she called back and connected us. I could hear her asking him if he could muster the strength to talk to me. The ocean breeze was blowing, I was quaking with emotion and tears running down my face, his voice was raspy. I could not understand what he was saying. Kim translated — though to be honest I couldn't hear her all that well at that point either. Something about my bright, shining face and not liking the word muster. "Andy, I'm in Florida right now, but I am with you in spirit," I said. "I love you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for everything."
Rest in peace, just as you asked humankind to consider doing.