Joyce spoke first. She pointed out that her husband had taken heat for a lot of people over the Iraq War. She didn’t mention any names, but she asked, “Where are they now?” None were coming to his defense or taking any share of the blame. A look of agreement and disappointment gripped her husband’s face. Maybe even sadness. It was the first and only time I’d ever seen his confident demeanor shaken. But then, just as quickly, the tough, resilient Rumsfeld returned and it was on to the business of the moment and the life ahead.
Rumsfeld was one of the last of the old-school public servants, who was kind to people in small, quiet ways; who helped a loved one cope with crippling drug addiction while simultaneously managing a war; who was friends with people ranging from the Kennedys to the Cheneys to Sammy Davis, Jr. and could put politics and policies aside to value them as people. He was an energetic squash player well into his 70s and zipped around the Pentagon, lapping younger and envious aides. He formed a foundation to support entrepreneurs in developing nations.
He had a Boy Scout’s view of right and wrong. He was a stickler for expenses and charges to the taxpayer. He got rid of a personal pastry chef at the Pentagon because he thought it a waste of money. He got reassigned a military aide whose job seemed primarily to be following him around the Department, reasoning that the young man had better things to do and if the secretary of defense couldn’t be safe in the world’s most secure office building then Lord help us all. He bridled at the idea that people didn’t always mean what they said and thought it was an insult to be called “ambitious.” He was aghast when I used the term “flipper” when he told me his dad used to move their family into homes, where they would refurbish, and resell them at a modest profit. He felt the term sounded unseemly.