My friend Leonard

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Congressman Leonard Boswell died Aug. 17, 2018, at the age of 84.

A few hours have passed since I learned of the passing of Congressman Leonard Boswell.
When you mention his name, many memories spring to mind for me. The first time I met him was at Young’s Park near the Knoxville VA campus. There was a tour being taken by one of Boswell’s fellow Democrats from a neighboring state.
This had to have been 2004, possibly a month after I began my journalism career in Knoxville. In any case, I was pretty green and I didn’t even know who Boswell was. It wasn’t until his aide, Sally (I feel terrible that I don’t remember her last name – but in my defense, from that day on, she was “Sally” to me. We had a great working relationship.) approached me about talking with my Congressman.
So, I did. I would speak to him many, many times in the years that followed.
Boswell always had time for me, whether he was in town or if I called Sally to request an interview. Of course, I may not have realized it at the beginning, but that’s because politicians are constantly looking for a medium to keep their name in front of voters. But, I also know there are many who genuinely want to share what’s going on.
At the beginning, I believe he was genuine.
I really treasured many of my interviews with him. Oftentimes, they focused on the VA, spending or veterans. It saddens me a little more that his death came before the future of the VA campus had been determined. But, I could write volumes about my disappointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government overall – specifically about that campus. Those are for another time.
Every time Boswell came to town to give a deserving veteran medals that the vet had earned but never received, I leaped at the chance to cover it. I love telling uplifting stories and thanking our veterans.
To me, that’s what mattered to Boswell, too. He was, of course, a decorated veteran himself. There are many politicians out there who see it as little more than a photo opportunity. Leonard Boswell, the retired Army helicopter pilot, took pride in saluting one of his military brethren. There was a twinkle in his eye every time he either pinned a medal on a fellow vet or handed them to a family member of one. It remained there through his salute, all the way through the photos they posed for afterward.
I feel like at this point of the column, I should start referring to him as the name he felt comfortable letting me call him, Leonard.
Leonard and I developed a strong rapport. I pressed him, and while there were times he gave me the usual lines, I am proud to say I believe he gave me many genuine answers. Above all, I believe I earned his respect. That, my friends, is what truly matters.
That respect led to one of the coolest moments of my life. It was my 30th birthday. A short time earlier, while Leonard was busy politicking, I was talking with Sally. I mentioned to her that I had been approached about running for the Iowa House, and how I’d love to just ask him a few questions – off the record – about what it takes to run a campaign, be a representative, etc.
Sally and Leonard came through. It was a Saturday morning, I think they made a special trip to Knoxville and they met me in my office. Marcy was there with me and Leonard laid down some truth.
What stuck most with me was his advice about the approach of being a Congressman. He compared things he wanted to achieve to a loaf of bread. When working with his fellow Congress members on both sides, he said you may sometimes not get the entire loaf, but even if you get part of it, you’ve had success.
It was a fantastic conversation. I was just enamored in the fact that he made the time, just for me. No story, no photo, nothing to relay to my audience. I believe THAT was the real Leonard Boswell. I will remember that Leonard Boswell, and the one who handed out medals.
On the evening of my one-on-one meeting, I went to Des Moines to cover the Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. This was the night Barack Obama was pretty much anointed the party’s caucus winner, as he had special lights to bring him to stage. At least there were no pyrotechnics.
But my other big memory from that was Boswell, coming out as one of the first speakers, bringing a lot of energy to the room. I mean, he fired them up – which was really impressive for a man in his 70s. I smiled extra wide as I watched him from my place on the floor.
He was a good man, whom I had the pleasure of getting to know as I grew into my profession.
I’ll remember him as a decorated veteran, an advocate for Marion County, a man generous with his time, but above all, I’ll remember him as my friend. Rest in peace, Leonard. Thank you for being a part of my life.
Take care of yourself and thank you for reading.