Bradlee, My Hero
Alberto Avendaño-oped | 10/22/2014, 1:10 a.m.
It happened in 2005. The year before, The Washington Post had purchased El Tiempo Latino and I was still figuring out my whereabouts inside the building at 15th Street. My sense of direction has never been one of my strengths, so it was not unusual for a casual observer to see me hesitate while on my way to the El Tiempo Latino offices, my body intuitively dragging me into rooms and spaces that my mind refused to recognize.
It happened one of those mornings. As I wandered through a geographical limbo, my eyes spotted him — a charismatic figure not in height but in aura. My eyes understood before my heart could handle it that Mr. Benjamin C. Bradlee was walking towards me. I then experienced for the first time in my life what I call “my Einstein moment”: my watch was running slower, my steps were growing shorter, and space and time became weirdly flexible as if engulfed in a curvature. After what felt like a million years later, the bubble burst. I —body and soul in unison for the first time— noticed that I had reached the cafeteria of the Post building where Bradlee was on his way out and about to pass me by.
He walked in grace like a sharp citizen of the world. Pensive, I thought. Maybe tired but never exhausted. He carried tons of history on his shoulders but his suit fell on him like a comfortable companion. In a haste, I said to him: “Good morning, sir. You cannot imagine what it means to me to meet you here... my name is… and I work at…”
Bradlee looked at me without listening. I continued by explaining that in 1974 I was finishing high school in Spain. One day, our English teacher decided to stop the class to talk about what was happening in the US with a newspaper called The Washington Post and something called The Watergate, and a President hiding secrets and you, sir, Mr. Bradlee, were mentioned as well as Bernstein and Woodward. And my teacher said something about a woman called Katharine Graham.
I was 17 years old, sir, and all those names, yours included, went to my head like a good spirit or a shot of bourbon —here Bradlee laughed like in a T.S. Eliot poem: His laughter was submarine and profound.
And, sir, right and then I started to dream with the values you were defending. You know, at the time in Spain there was a dictatorship and freedom of the press was not part of my young years. But your example, sir…what you guys were doing over here inspired my generation over there… and I ended up in journalism… and 30 years later, sir, I am here in The Washington Post talking to you.
Bradlee was still looking at me, quiet. He seemed covered by a silky and patient distance. I was breathless, exhausted, and relieved after unloading my emotions unto him.
Then, Bradlee said, “Alberto…” and I said, “Yes, sir?” And Bradlee said, “Shut up, let’s grab a coffee”.
We didn’t talk about Watergate that day or any other day between 2005 and 2013.
My dear Mr. Bradlee, your journey has been one of a seed: Where you stop, trees will grow.
May the gods —and the goddesses— be with you, Mr. Bradlee.
AVENDAÑO IS EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF EL TIEMPO LATINO