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Tony Snow dies of cancer; ex-Bush press secretary was 53

July 12, 2008 |  4:18 am

After a long, candid and public battle with colon cancer, former White House press secretary and television-radio host Tony Snow died early this morning.Former White House press secretary, speechwriter and broadcaster Tony Snow dies of cancer

Snow died about 2 a.m. EDT in Georgetown University Hospital. He was 53 and is survived by his wife, Jill Ellen Walker, and their three children: Kendall, Robbie and Kristi.

A video segment about his death is available by clicking the Read more line below.

Snow previously served as chief speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and as a frequent host on Fox News Channel's "Fox News Sunday," "Weekend Live" and "The O'Reilly Factor."

He also guest-hosted for Rush Limbaugh and had his own radio talk show.

In September, after 17 months in the White House job, Snow retired as President George W. Bush's third press secretary, typically not blaming his disease but saying with his cancer he needed to ...

... earn more for his family than the job's $168,000 salary. He was succeeded by Dana Perino.

Snow said he left the press secretary job with regret, calling it "the most exciting, intellectually aerobic job I'm ever going to have."

In an early morning statement issued from his weekend retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush said he and Laura were "deeply saddened."

"America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character," the president said. "It was a joy to watch Tony at the podium each day. He brought wit, grace and a great love of country to his work."

In a telephone interview this morning with the Fox News Channel, former George H.W. Bush praised his top speechwriter and said: "He wrote it the way he thought I'd want to say it. I'm not Glowing Rhetorical Guy, so he'd have to downgrade some of his own wonderful way with words." Barbara Bush then got on the phone, but choked up.

Popular and inevitably cheerful, even during his draining chemotherapy treatments, Snow was well liked among the White House press corps, and with the smooth practice of a broadcaster seemed to genuinely enjoy the public sparring with the media and explaining his boss' positions.

Karl Rove, Bush's counselor and chief political strategist, was traveling in the Crimea this morning when contacted by cellphone. "Oh, no!" he said. Having direct access to the president like Rove had was a key demand of Snow's before accepting the job on April 26, 2006, anTony Snow and Pres. Bush at the head table of the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington April 23, 2007d beginning work on May 6.

He succeeded Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan in that position.

Snow had gone through remission, but the cancer returned and forced another operation. Despite the pain and nausea, he remained optimistic and talked openly on several programs about the experience as an aid and encouragement to other patients.

"I'm a very lucky guy," he would say frequently.

Although he had been ill recently, friends did not know the end was near. So the news was particularly stunning to those who knew the tall fellow with the large grin.

Three months ago, CNN announced that Snow would join that network as a conservative commentator. The Kentucky native graduated from Davidson College in 1977.

Robert Anthony Snow was born June 1, 1955, in Berea. His father, Jim, was a social studies teacher and assistant principal in the Cincinnati suburbs, and Snow's mother worked as a nurse in the inner city. She too died of colon cancer, when Tony was 17.

Snow was also a newspaper veteran, having written for a variety of smaller dailies before becoming deputy editorial page editor at the Detroit News and then editorial page editor of the Washington Times.

He also wrote a column for Creators Syndicate from 1993 to 2000 that appeared in more than 200 newspapers across the country.

In April the Associated Press reported that Snow was admitted to a hospital in Spokane, Wash., with an undisclosed illness and his speaking engagements were canceled. A month later, while in Ohio, he was again admitted to a hospital and was told that he could not travel for some time. Still, he was known to call friends and inquire after their health.

"Fox News Sunday" will have a special tribute to its initial host Sunday with Snow's friend Brit Hume as substitute host for Chris Wallace.

"I'll miss it," Snow told reporters at his final White House briefing on Sept. 13. "I love these briefings." And it sounded to those professional skeptics as if he really meant it.

(UPDATE: A memorial service for Snow is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern Thursday at Catholic University’s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credits: The White House

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