In the early 1990s, I was editor of Arizona Business Magazine. One of my favorite and most memorable assignments from that time was a profile of Senator Barry Goldwater. When I called his assistant to request an interview, she politely informed me the Senator was retired and no longer spoke with the media. I hung up disappointed, but undeterred. We couldn’t publish an issue dedicated to Arizona politics without including the person who epitomized Arizona politics.
So I penned a brief, sincere letter to Goldwater thanking him for his service to our nation. I told him how much I valued his insights and perspective on business, politics and the changes our great state and nation have seen. I confessed I was only 24 years old and had a lot to learn. It was my hope that I, and my readers, could learn from him. I asked for an interview. Then I wrote a note to his assistant, thanking her for taking the time to speak to me and asking her forgiveness for my second, direct appeal to the Senator. Both letters went into an envelope addressed to the assistant, posted with a $0.29 stamp I had to lick.
After a long, nail-biting week, his assistant called to congratulate me.
“You got your interview, Ms. McCann,” she chuckled.
Another week later, she escorted my photographer and me into the 85-year-old Senator’s living room. He settled himself in the darkest, drabbest corner of the room and refused to relocate to a more photo-friendly spot. It was a hilarious move. You see, Goldwater was an expert photographer. He knew darn well this particular corner was the worst possible location for a photo. So I did what any good editor would do. I got on with the interview before the grumpy old guy decided to give me a hard time. (Photographer Dan Coogan rose to the challenge and did an amazing job, though I don’t know if he ever forgave me for hanging him out to dry.)
The interview began with a few rookie questions and a fair amount of stammering. It was the hardest interview I had conducted in my short career, and it still ranks among the top 10. Goldwater was rough around the edges and used to dealing hardcore Washington journalists. I was intimidated as hell. Fortunately, he recognized my enthusiastic inexperience pretty quickly. He must have seen I wouldn’t be asking any “gotcha” questions. We both relaxed, and he opened up – about a life in politics, his thoughts on family, how it felt to have outlived most of his friends. He even smiled a few times. I still wish I could have stayed and chatted with him longer.
I’m not sure what prompted me to dig through my old clips recently and read the Goldwater profile I wrote 25 years ago (yikes). Seeing his thoughts on health care reform, education, abortion and economic development, it’s striking how little our national dialogue has changed. I’ll refrain from sharing my own political views and opinions and will simply share my article, for your amusement or edification, as I did back then.
Click here to open a PDF file of The Senator by Jessica McCann
And I’ll leave you with the same quote from the Senator that closes out the profile:
“I don’t think you should go back, but take the proven values and go forward.”
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