As a 14-year employee, I came to appreciate both
Vanís durability and his sublime skills as a communicator. He was
equally at home with the written and spoken word. And what
perspective: Van had 70 years of close-up experience with the local
scene, dating back to 1938 when he and Harold Keen went to work for
the San Diego Sun, the first of several newspaper stints. Later Van
was a pioneering television news director, starting with XETV
Channel 6 in 1953. He credited his exposure on television with
helping him get elected to Congress in 1962, to serve the first of
his nine terms.
In the House, he churned out statements and correspondence on an old manual typewriter. As the staff person charged with preparing press releases and drafting speeches, I often felt like a fifth wheel, working for such a talented boss. He never was mean or vindictive and got along well with his colleagues on both sides of the House aisle. Vanís only peer as a communicator among the 435 House members was Rep. Otis Pike of Long Island. Like Van, Pike was a House member 18 years and turned to column writing after leaving Congress, in Pikeís case with Newhouse News Service.
After Van was defeated for re-election in 1980 and I rejoined the
Tribune, I stayed in touch with him, occasionally doing a bit of
research for a U-T column he was preparing. A former long distance
runner, he had a wry sense of humor. I last heard from Van in March,
when he said in an e-mail that he was using a walker and didnít
expect to realize his ďambition to run the 4-minute mile.Ē But he
sure covered a lot of ground otherwise in a very full and long life,
and I was pleased and proud to have been associated with him.