|Tom, Frank, sombrero|
Scotch, wine, wisdom from Tom Fuentes
Folks have been making the trek to say their goodbyes to the man who sat atop the O.C. Republican party during its Reagan-era glory years and beyond, and was friend and mentor to many who run the party today.
Tom is home for good, done with chemo, just waiting for the cancer to take him. To remain alert, he has rejected morphine for now, taking Vicodin for pain. His wife, Jolene, sends groups of one or two upstairs, where Tom is propped up in their four-poster bed. Political mail strategist Jim Bieber and I were scheduled for 3:30 p.m. I thought we'd have 15 minutes. Jolene and the Lord gave us nearly two hours.
Mr. Frost's gift to RN
We talked just a little about current politics. Tom was happy Rick Perry is in. "I met Perry a couple of weeks ago when he was in town. Sat next to his wife, Anita. I got a good feel for the first-lady quality. One of the gauges I have is to get to know the political wives. That tells you a lot. I still get notes from Barbara Bush." Vintage Fuentes on several levels.
We talked about money and politics, his disdain for high-rollers who expected a quid-pro-quo for their donations. In all his years shifting money between people and conservative causes and candidates, he says, only one person ever blatantly asked for something in return. That person – now a candidate – may well win in 2012. If so, and if something unexpectedly, dare one say miraculously keeps that person from actually taking office? "That'll be me," Tom joked, pointing heavenward.
But politics was not at the root of our talk. Rather, it was the human lessons one learns on the way – the good one does and the love one can spread through political connections. Jolene brought tumblers of Glenlivet and the real conversation began.
. . .
Tom almost cheerily showed us the casket he's picked out – a $1,250 pine model made by Trappist monks in Iowa. "Dying is hard. But I'm not afraid of death." "You handle it with such grace," Bieber said. "Well," replied Tom, "what else are you going to do?"
. . .
Now it was time for Tom to give his final gifts – and they were hardly garage-sale material. "Jim, I want you to have my wristwatch," he said, passing his black Movado to Bieber, who was almost speechless. We talked some more, and then Tom stuck his hand in the bedcovers and came up with a bottle of wine. I couldn't read the label – not because of the tears, but because it was in Russian.
Fuentes' idol—Dick Nixon
The bottle was from a case Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had given Richard Nixon during a state visit to Moscow in 1974. Nixon gave it to Tom in 1980 for helping him get back on his political feet after Watergate, along with a nice note. Over the years, Tom had given 11 special friends a bottle from the case. Tom knew I studied Nixon. "This is the last bottle," he said, handing it to me. He also gave me the Nixon note and the U.S. government manifest documenting the gift exchange between world leaders. It might legally belong to the people of the United States, but the G-Men will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Tom thinks those were his final gifts to us. I know better.