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Davidson College's statement on death alum Tony Snow

Posted July 12, 2008

Former Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow, who died Saturday morning, was an outstanding 1977 graduate of Davidson College who remained engaged with the college throughout his professional career. Davidson presented him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2002 when he attended his class's 25th reunion.

Davidson College President Thomas W. Ross offered condolences to Snow¹s wife, Jill, and the couple¹s three children. Ross said, "Tony was one of our most outstanding alumni and we are proud of all he accomplished and contributed as a journalist and government servant during his much too brief time with us. Even after his national success and fame, he returned often to the campus and was always accessible and willing to assist his alma mater."

Ross continued, "Personally, Tony was a kind and thoughtful man. Even while fighting his courageous battle against cancer, he took the time to telephone me on my first day of work to express his good wishes and his continued commitment to Davidson. Tony was always available to help and support others no matter what the circumstances. He will be greatly missed by those of us who were privileged to know him."

Snow majored in philosophy at Davidson, and made a strong impression on his political philosophy professor, Lance Stell. Stell recalled, "He really was a remarkable student. As a matter of fact, he's the only student who has ever challenged me to a debate. And it wasn't just a fly-by-night idea. He followed up on it, secured a venue, and we had it. He assigned me to argue against the viability of libertarianism, and he argued for it. He was passionately interested in political philosophy, and believed deeply that people's political beliefs had real meaning in the world."

Snow was a great admirer of the substance and style of the late Professor Emeritus of Philosophy George Abernethy. In 1997 Snow wrote a syndicated Media General national column about his time as a pupil in Abernethy's class, "Once you got in George's thrall, you stayed," Snow wrote. "He enticed students with lectures of rare pith and energy. I did something for him I've never done before or since. I raced back to my room and reworked my notes to preserve as much as possible."

Snow kept in touch with both Abernethy and Stell after college, and considered Abernethy a mentor/tutor. Snow wrote in his column, "He (Abernethy) read editorials and columns as meticulously as my old term papers. He suggested books and articles. He asked questions and displayed curiosity that was both flattering and daunting."

Snow was a very active Davidson student, and was named to both the Omicron Delta Kappa campus leadership honor society and to "Who's Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities." His peers elected him president of his senior class. He also won the college's Vereen Bell Creative Writing Award, won a filmmaking award, and was elected to the Delta Sigma Rho honor society for debate. He was a member of the Eumenean Literary Society, played in the Pep Band, and served as a hall counselor for first year students. He debated and exchanged philosophical ideas in late night rap sessions, co-authored an underground newspaper that never quite made it to press, and was famous for playing Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" on his flute.

"The Tony Snow I knew at Davidson in the 1970s was an astute thinker and a talented writer," said Charles Cornwell, then an associate professor of English at Davidson. "His exuberance in the honest exchange of ideas was contagious. With his splendid sense of humor – always predicated on the follies of humankind but never censorious – he could charm and disarm the most obstinate opponent. Tony encouraged all of us who knew him to relish every moment of the life allotted to us. I shall miss him."

His service as a Davidson alumnus included hosting an admission reception at his home shortly after graduation, representing Davidson at a Washington-area College Fair in 1985. He spoke at Davidson several times during his professional career. He delivered a keynote address during Homecoming 1999, and judged an English department writing competition that year. He spoke in 2002 when he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, and was last on campus in April 2007, when he again spoke to students and alumni during Alumni Reunion Weekend.

Throughout his career as a syndicated columnist, television and radio journalist, and presidential speech writer and press secretary, Snow built a following of fans who appreciate his thoughtful style and courteous manner.

Stell noted that he was consistent in that attribute since Davidson. "He always refused to take cheap shots in discussions," Stell said. "The ideas were important to him, rather than making other people look bad. He was someone the college could well be proud of. He has always represented our influences well, and if we can claim any impact on him, that's to our credit."

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.


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