Noted Journalist Feted at Roast

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/12/2012, 2:15 p.m.

Bill Raspberry the Man of the Hour

The first time Robert Woodson was introduced to William Raspberry, he said a heated three-hour argument erupted as each man challenged the other's politics, positions and precepts.

Neither man backed down but from that stormy encounter blossomed a friendship that has lasted more than 35 years, Woodson said.

"He has written several columns coming out of our conversations, he would call to bounce things off of me and I suggested some columns to him," said Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in Northwest. "What stood out is his independence, his political and philosophical independence. A lot of pundits you can predict what they're going to write, but he was willing to change his mind in the face of new information."

"He's a man moved by evidence. Few people are. They have an ideological position and do everything to defend that. His punditry is really missed."

Woodson, 75, counted among the more than 200 friends, colleagues and admirers who gathered at The Washington Post late last month to honor the celebrated columnist and journalist at an event labeled, "Raspberry's Roast."

Washington Post Chairman and CEO Donald Graham and the newspaper sponsored the event, said Paul Delaney, a longtime friend of Raspberry's.

Though slowed by illness, Raspberry, his wife Sondra and his family enjoyed the banter, jokes and witty repartee on an evening when he and his formidable legacy took center stage. An army of admirers and well-wishers swarmed the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, surrounding him when he entered the room, hugging, kissing and chatting, their laughter bouncing off the walls.

Speakers ranging from Post Senior Editor Milton Coleman, fellow Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Colby King, longtime friends Delaney and Ron Sarro and a succession of people whose lives have intersected with Raspberry's, heaped praise on a man all said has left an indelible imprint on the newspaper business and on them.

Fox News Commentator Juan Williams served as master of ceremonies and toward the end of the tribute, choked up as he spoke about the beauty of Raspberry as a mentor, colleague and friend.

"Bill Raspberry is the best," he said. "He's been a mentor to so many people. His writing is heartfelt and incisive ... there were no polemics, it was personal and no one could peg him. He always wrote with a smile. I would be honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. He's a pioneer who paved the way for writers and commentators [and] he had loyal readers across the political spectrum."

After the roast, Williams discussed Raspberry, who he asked to introduce him when he was inducted into the Washington Journalism Hall of Fame.

"I came to the Post as an intern in 1976 and he was doing a local column. Then he went from Metro to Op-Ed. He was always the mentor," Williams said. "It was an interesting time. There was lots of obvious racial turmoil in the city. Washington had burned and there was a transition from no blacks to blacks [at the newspaper]."