Raspberry simply had a passion for justice, especially where poor children were concerned. It was a passion that refused to be contained by ideological boxes or by the expectations of others about what he was supposed to be writing.
And if Raspberry were not African-American, the memorialists and obituary writers might be talking a lot more about his brave and consistent opposition to the Iraq War, from the very beginning. He was a rare figure in the world of commentary at that time. His questions about why were going to war were both basic and sophisticated, rooted in the common sense that characterized all his work. “Aren’t we old enough,” he asked during a discussion on PBS’ “The News Hour,” “to be a little suspicious of governments that tell us, ‘we know this stuff but we can’t tell you’?” Apparently we weren’t.
I was one of so many people at The Washington Post who could never resist Bill’s open door and never wanted to resist conversation with him. We talked a lot about kids and their need for love, nurture and discipline. It was a natural enough subject because I had become a new father around the time I got to know Bill well, and he was the right man to turn to for guidance. His insistence on the importance of parenting and education came naturally, and it was a form of gratitude.
Raspberry’s parents, James and Willie Mae Tucker Raspberry, were legendary educators in Okolona, Miss., who had opened the gates of opportunity to hundreds of African-American kids in an environment that regularly shut doors in their faces.
Raspberry was always unrestrained in his expressions of love and admiration for his parents, and he wrote about his father this way in a 1991 column:
“He was no tinhorn saint — just a good man in every sense of that phrase. … He had the wonderful gift of knowing what was needed to make the difference: the subtle sermon that made each person in the congregation think he was talking directly to him or her, the private counsel or the special moments that my generation calls ‘quality time.'”
Raspberry more than lived up to his father’s example. He, too, had a gift for the “subtle sermon,” and he was always speaking directly, to all of us.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is email@example.com.