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Gwen’s Take: Getting on with it

A friend of mine lost his wife to cancer six years ago. When she passed away, their twin children were 12 years old.

Next year, daughter Nora is off to Brown; and son Jake is off to the University of Chicago. Their mother, the late New York Times reporter Robin Toner, would be more than proud.

This week, a couple hundred people gathered for dinner in Washington to honor her memory. Hillary Clinton spoke (Robin met husband Peter Gosselin when both were covering the ill-fated Clinton health care plan for different newspapers in 1993). The rest of us swapped stories about how tough and funny Robin was.

She also put the fear of God into candidates. (Secretary Clinton remembered how Robin would fix her with a simple stare and tip her head to the side when she was pressing for the answer to a question.)

She did whatever was needed to file the story. In the years before Wi-Fi and coffee shop hot spots, she would stop motorcades, if necessary, to find a landline from which to send her story back to the Times.

She was a fabulous gal pal. Any woman who was toughing it out with the boys on the bus could compete with Robin by day, and swap stories about men and children and life-work balance by night. She sent me roses when I was hired by The New York Times.

Shortly after Robin’s shocking death at age 54, her husband and her alma mater realized that there were journalism prizes that honored investigative reporting, wartime bravado and presidential and congressional coverage – but none that prized the kind of smart political reporting at which Robin excelled.

The Robin Toner Prize now fills that void. Happily, this year’s recipient was Dan Balz, the chief correspondent for The Washington Post.

Dan is that rare creature that people swear does not actually exist in Washington. He is smart. He is fair. And he is elegant. I challenge you to find a reporter (or a politician, for that matter) who does not respect him.

His coverage for The Washington Post has provided a template for what political reporting should be. He shies away from opinion, but never fails to provide fresh analysis. He watches candidates up close as well as far away. He embraces social media, but has not become ensnared by it.

I should also say Dan was the national editor when I covered my first presidential campaign for the Post back in the day. He taught me a lot, with patience and insight. He made me laugh on a daily basis. I still learn something new every time he sits down at the Washington Week roundtable. The applause for him at the Toner dinner was heartfelt and sustained.

The Toner twins won the night when they presented the award to Dan, offering their memories of a mother they lost too soon. And Peter, who has worked overtime to create and sustain the prize, won our hearts when he confided that he and others who have lost a loved-one are often advised to “Get over it.”

He hasn’t gotten over it, he said. But he and the children have gotten on with it.

He could have been talking about today’s news industry or our political coverage, or our obsession with covering new things by old standards. Get on with it.

At that moment, I could hear Robin’s voice in my ear. And she was laughing.

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