Tony Blankley, 1948–2012
The ex-Briton who became the speaker’s speaker
Throughout the 1990s, Tony Blankley was a source of both frustration and amusement to Washington reporters. As press secretary to Newt Gingrich, he calmly dismissed ethics charges against the then House speaker, and staunchly defended his boss when he was blamed for shutting down Congress. But Blankley also enjoyed publicly poking fun at Gingrich. “Newt is a tad like Gandhi,” he said in 1995, “a combination of visionary and practical tactician not often seen in politics. But obviously, Gandhi dressed better.”
Born in London, Blankley was 3 years old when his father, who had been Churchill’s accountant, moved the family to California, said The New York Times. Blankley became a child actor in TV shows such as Lassie and in the 1956 movie The Harder They Fall—which, he joked, was Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, and his too. He joined the Republican Party in high school and later volunteered in every Ronald Reagan campaign.
In 1982, he was hired as a speechwriter by the Reagan administration, said The Washington Times. His political career skyrocketed eight years later when he went to work for Gingrich, who dubbed him “the best-known non-presidential press secretary in modern times.” After seven years in the spotlight, Blankley became a professional commentator, eventually joining The Washington Times as an editor and a columnist. He campaigned for his old boss until the end, insisting in one of his last columns that only Gingrich had “the intelligence, courage, experience, and sheer willful capacity” to beat President Obama in 2012.