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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tough to say goodbye to LaT’s riveting talks

I was going to start with the definition of “off the cuff.”

But it included the word “extemporaneously,” so I figured I’d avoid that cliched way of starting a column, because if you have to use two definitions, your device just isn’t worth the trouble.

So, now I’ll just start writing about Steve LaTourette.

You’re probably wondering, though, why I was going to discuss the phrase “off the cuff.”

It’s because I have never known a better “off the cuff” speaker than LaTourette.

Over the years while working for The News-Herald, I’ve seen LaT, as we’ve come to call him in a lazy shorthand, in a lot of situations.

He’s spoken in front of big groups. He’s spoken to little groups. He’s spoken to our editorial board.

He’s been interviewed on television. He’s sat down with us at Lakeland Community College for candidate interviews.

The man needs no windup. He needs no setup. Just utter a phrase, step back and listen.

It’s a skill lawyers possess that most of us don’t.

Unless you walk up to me and say “George Clooney,” you’ll be lucky to get a couple sentences out of me before I start stammering and saying “uhhhhh” while the flop sweat forms on my brow.

Say “George Clooney” and I’ll talk for days. I might even offer a few visual aids.

When LaTourette has visited our editorial board over the years, we’ve had the same strategy as we prepared for the meetings — come up with some topics and just let him update us on the issues.

One of the longest in recent years, of course, was health care. But he’s also discussed the Iraq war, Cash for Clunkers, Social Security and earmarks.

It’s always an impressive scene. LaTourette hears the topic, accesses the information in that big brain of his and just spills the facts and his take on the issue.

We sit back, take notes and I walk away impressed that he’s the human version of those jukeboxes you used to find on the tables in diners.

Two years ago, he showed me his recall ability stretched beyond the political arena.

At an event before Fairport Harbor’s Mardi Gras Parade, LaTourette agreed to tell a joke on video as part of The News-Herald’s celebration of National Joke Day.

We walked outside the Hungarian Culture Club on High Street in Fairport and he proceeded to tell me a joke about three evangelists who are “dispatched to heaven,” as he called it, after their limo crashes.

I’ve had a front-row seat as LaTourette has held court a few times over the years at Lakeland when his panels have gathered to meet and assess the students who hope to get appointments to U.S. military academies.

Before we sit down and meet the students, LaTourette greets us and thanks us for taking time out on a winter Saturday and helping him by giving him our recommendations.

Then, he starts answering questions.

Frankly, that’s what I’ll miss most when LaTourette retires when his term ends in December.

He’s quick with a quip and tack sharp; he’s also so smart and so prepared that he leaves you mesmerized.

I’ll miss those moments when I got to sit down on his behalf and meet the students who wanted to lead our nation’s military effort.

I just hope whoever follows LaTourette will still need the help in that regard.

But, until then, I’ll remember the good times and wish our LaT well as he starts his new chapter.

Remember, Steve, anytime you want to discuss current affairs, I’m all ears.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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