On Hearing of Murray Kempton's Death (1997)

[In 1997, when the journalist Murray Kempton died, the Media Studies Center asked for thoughts and comments on Kempton. The text I submitted appeared under the heading "Your Thoughts on Kempton." Apparently nobody else had a reminiscence about the columnist; for whatever reason, mine was the only comment that appeared, almost precisely as follows.]

I revered Murray Kempton. For years I bought New York Newsday to read his column. (Between his work there, and that of Jimmy Breslin and Sydney Schanberg, I was in columnist heaven.) I even have a copy of Rebellions, Perversities, and Main Events (Kempton, 1994) on my desk as something to dip into when I need to change my focus and put things in perspective.

But nothing I say is as memorable as my brush with the man himself.


One day I was crossing Broadway uptown, waiting for traffic to clear. I was about to step into the street. Then instinct told me to halt. I did. I looked in the direction of oncoming traffic, and witnessed the sight of Kempton bearing down on me on his bicycle, headed downtown as if he were possessed by demons, and I was torn between gazing at him in admiration, and saving my rear end.

Fortunately, my good sense won out, and I leaped back from the crosswalk. He ripped past, very close to my face, that white hair blowing in the breeze. He looked as confident as any man in a suit, on two wheels, can look.

I have thought since then that if I ever had to be run over by a cyclist, I would have wanted it to be Kempton. Now that he is gone, I doubt there is anyone else whose wheels I could tolerate.

--Tim O'Connor