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Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane, it was an honor to know you

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Opinion,Mark Tapscott,Columnists,Minusextra,Magazine,Obituaries

It never came easy for Greg Kane. A sort of tough love was what he knew from his childhood and it defined how he saw the world and responded to it. It came from his mom.

His last Thanksgiving column was about his much-loved mother who had passed away in August 2013, and it included a telling passage about how in his early childhood she once saved his life in the hospital. He'd eaten bad crabs and awoke in the hospital with an improperly inserted IV.

Mom had no medical training but she was sure the IV had been inserted incorrectly. Multiple entreaties to fix it were ignored. Greg explained what happened next:

"Since she had no qualms about going to the mats for any one or all of her six children (I was her third; she had three after me) she didn’t hesitate to tell hospital staffers about their mistake.

"They ignored her, so without further discussion, Mom undid the IV line I was hooked up to, gathered me in her loving arms, and headed toward the door.

"'Miss!' alarmed hospital staffers shouted. 'Where are you going?'

"'I'm taking my child out of here,' she told them.

"Hospital staffers panicked: a woman with the gumption to undo an IV line and take her child out of a hospital just might be the type to file a lawsuit.

"So they got all apologetic, convinced Mom to return me to the hospital and re-hooked me to the IV line – correctly."

Clearly, Mom was not a woman to be trifled with and she passed that strength of character directly to Greg. She schooled her children in a rigorous brand of Catholicism. And from his own description, he very much needed that schooling.

"All that churching-up never did inspire me to become as good a Catholic as Mom. I don’t go to Mass anywhere near as much as I should, and I haven’t graced a confessional box in decades," he wrote in that Thanksgiving column.

"But the religious training did have some lingering effects. For example, I don’t embrace the moral relativism running rampant in today’s America. And, to the extent that I am a conservative, 50 percent of that conservatism can be attributed to Mom and the way she brought up her children," he said.

The other 50 percent? Greg was an unusually intelligent man with an uncommonly perceptive eye for important details.

That was true whether Greg was in Sudan where he and a colleague from the Baltimore Sun did an award-winning investigative reporting series on slavery or on the streets of his beloved Baltimore where drugs, dependency and crime were the plague.

His reporter's eye was evident in a column last year where Greg laid out a panhandler quoted at length in a Sun news story about a city council proposal to ban panhandling.

Greg simply could not imagine himself going up to a stranger to ask for money because of his personal dignity and sense of shame, which, of course, he said came from Mom.

And that was the panhandler’s problem. By talking so unapologetically to the Sun, the guy was saying, according to Greg, "look, Baltimore! I panhandle for a living! And I’m not ashamed of it! I have no sense of dignity or pride, and that doesn’t bother me, either!"

Then came Greg’s bottom line: Since the guy told the Sun he lived with his sister who likely was also feeding him, the question that begged for explanation with so many panhandlers was this: "What, exactly, are they using their panhandling money for?" You knew that he had the answers for that one, too.

He had the answers to a lot of questions, but they often made a lot of people in Baltimore angry. He was a black man and a conservative in a liberal town and he had more than his share of critics, some of whom could be brutally unjust. But he never stopped speaking his mind, in his way, in his time.

It was my pleasure to edit Greg's columns for the first three years of his association with the Washington Examiner. Not once did he submit a dud. Every column was succinct, unapologetic and precisely worded. I couldn't help but admire Greg's gift.

My hunch that he lived his life out of the public eye the same way he wrote his columns was confirmed in a sweet way by his daughter, Jennifer, who said this when I asked about her father:

"He would write me the best absence notes that my teachers had ever read when I was in school. They were so epic that they were passed around to teachers that I didn't even have."

I know exactly how those teachers felt. Greg Kane, it was an honor to know you. Rest in peace.

MARK TAPSCOTT is Executive Editor of the Washington Examiner.
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