David Nyhan, 1940-2005
You didn't really need a byline to know a Dave Nyhan column.
Just the distinctive prose -- staccato, vernacular, swaggering -- was tip-off enough to fans of the man whose political column appeared on the page opposite for over 20 years. Cut from the Breslin-Royko cloth but uniquely his own garment, David Nyhan exemplified Boston politics at its generous, colorful best.
It isn't easy to reduce a long career and nearly 3,000 columns to any kind of essence. But one remarkable thing about Nyhan, who died Sunday at his Brookline home at age 64, was his combination of smarts and heart. Even when he was skewering some unlucky politician, his words were never petty or mean. He understood that politics is a human business: rough and tumble, to be sure, but ultimately less about issues or ideologies than about people. He could provide young reporters -- newcomers to the obscure folkways of Massachusetts -- a lesson on the role of politics as social escalator for Boston's immigrants in a way that could make the strictest good-government reformer reconsider patronage.
Nyhan strode through the world convinced it needed changing and looking like he was fully able to muscle it into new directions. His sensibilities belied his Harvard degree. He never lost the newsman's spurs he earned at the Associated Press. ''I always aimed for that niche where you write faster than those who write better, and better than those who write faster," he once said. He could wield a mean hyphen, as in this description of former House Speaker Charles Flaherty: ''He represented the sort of expansive, inclusive, let's-do-something-for-the-little-guy-and-gal politics of the postwar Irish-Americans." He was, of course, describing himself in that passage as much as any pol.
Nyhan's rectangle of newsprint was a favored launching pad for political trial balloons. Both the presidential campaign of Paul Tsongas and the gubernatorial campaign of John Silber were broached in Nyhan columns. He flirted with Republicans as well, as an early booster of both Lamar Alexander and John McCain. Just to hear that booming, affable voice on the other end of a telephone line -- ''Nyhan of the Globe!" -- could make, or ruin, the day.
For all the national stars he rubbed his broad shoulders with, though, it was a very personal column that was his most requested. In April, 1987, he wrote ''When the School of your Choice Says No," addressed to all the high school seniors enduring the agony of college rejections. The Globe reprinted the column every year for 15 seasons, as new generations of disconsolate students took heart from his advice on how to deal with the admissions officers. ''Screw them," he wrote. ''You've got a life to lead."
In the summer of 2001 Dave Nyhan retired from the Globe. He continued working, of course, combining his passions for journalism, politics, and philanthropy in new and powerful ways. But in our hearts, and we hope in the memories of his many readers, he remains forever ''Nyhan of the Globe."