Life can be brutal and unfair

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 16, 2006

Whenever I thought of David Rosenbaum, it brought a smile. He was that kind of friend, someone whose company you enjoyed and whom you did not need to see often to maintain the bond of friendship.

This week, though, David keeps appearing in my thoughts, and each time I feel only numbness and disbelief.

It began early Monday morning when I scanned the online edition of The New York Times, as I do almost every morning. The headline leapt out at me: David Rosenbaum, Reporter for Times Who Covered Politics, Dies at 63.

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I read on, and surprise turned into horror. David had not died of a sudden heart attack or from illness. This good and gentle man died of a massive brain injury, a victim of the kind of mindless violence that can lurk even on a quiet residential street. My mourning of the loss of a friend has only deepened as more details of his death have filtered out.

Our friendship was formed at the St. Petersburg Times at the beginning of our careers. I was a freshly minted college graduate in my first reporting job. He was a rising senior finishing up a summer internship.

He had a sunny disposition, a ready smile and a quick mind. We fell into an easy, comfortable friendship.

David returned to the newspaper after graduation. Both of us married, and we and our wives enjoyed each other’s company.

After a short time in St. Petersburg, he enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University. He went to work in The New York Times Washington Bureau in 1968. With the exception of three years in New York, he spent the rest of his career in the bureau, covering everything from the Watergate hearings and the Iran-contra affair to tax reform.

He was skilled at turning such abstruse issues as economic policy into lucid prose that ordinary people could understand. And he was never too busy to encourage and share his knowledge with a fellow journalist or a student.

We saw each other when we could over the years, usually when I was in Washington on business. We swapped cards at Christmas. Whenever we saw each other, we picked up where we’d left off.

We last saw David a few years ago when we were visiting our son and his family while he was stationed in Washington. Our families met for a lengthy breakfast talking about work, talking about family, talking about life. David was enthusiastic about some teaching he had done; he was even more enthusiastic about his twin granddaughters who were with at breakfast with us.

I expected that when he finally retired David would be as respected as a teacher as he had been as a journalist, and I was certain that he would be a wonderful grandfather.

He and his wife, Ginny, were pleased that both of their grown children lived nearby.

But David will not be a great teacher. He will not spoil his grandchildren. And I will not see him again.

On Friday night, Jan. 6, less than a week after retiring from The Times, David left his home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Northwest Washington for an after-dinner walk.

He was less than a block from home when he was attacked. Police found a radio and pair of headphones, and they think he might not have heard his assailant approaching.

David was alive when police arrived in response to a call from a resident. He still had his watch and wedding ring, and police did not check to find that his wallet was missing. They thought he had fallen or suffered a seizure.

It took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, even though two ambulances with paramedics were stationed less than 10 minutes way.

The ambulance crew thought David was intoxicated and said so to hospital workers. He lay on a stretcher in a hallway for at least an hour before doctors examined him and discovered the injuries.

David died on Sunday. The medical examiner’s office said blows to the head, body and extremities caused the death.

No one has said whether the delays contributed.

Life is often brutal and unfair. This week I am deeply aware of that.

Someday when I think about David I will smile. Right now, I just want to cry.

-Bill Brown can

be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville Al 36853 or by e-mail at