Wednesday, June 10, 2015

From NA Confidential: "The life and death of Charles Kennedy."

This posting from my other blog isn't about beer at all. It's about a disease that far too few of us in the beer business take as seriously as we should. Moreover, it's about my fascination with a tiny factoid: Charles Kennedy spent a brief period in Bloomington at Indiana University, which at the time was legendary for partying.

The links make for sobering reading, even without political context.


Kennedy in 1987 (photo credit to the Washington Post)

In 1988, I was fortunate to land my first and only "real" corporate job abstracting periodicals at the now long-defunct UMI Data-Courier in Louisville. I lived off my evening package store pay and bankrolled as much as I could to make what became a six-month stay in Europe in 1989.

During my tenure at UMI Data Courier, it transpired that our British and other English language publications from abroad (The Economist, The Spectator, New Statesman, even Punch) were increasingly shunted onto my stack of work by fellow staffers after it became known that the new guy rather enjoyed reading them, and more importantly, wasn’t troubled by the English essayist’s general habit of hiding the topic sentence somewhere other than the opening paragraph. We had quotas, you know.

Charles Kennedy, who recently died and has been eulogized as a somewhat tragic, Shakespearean political personage, would have been a mere stripling during the period of my abstracting career. We were just about the same age, after all, but he was already a Member of Parliament, destined for greater things -- some of which Kennedy achieved, as with his iconic speech in opposition to the UK joining George W. Bush's war against Iraq.

In the end, Kennedy was felled by drink, and I don't make the citation flippantly. Following are three links that tell Kennedy's story.

The Charles Kennedy Story, by Alex Hunt & Brian Wheeler (BBC News)

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy led his party to their best ever election result in 2005 but, battling a drink problem, had to resign a few months later. After his death at the age of 55, here's a look back at the life and career of one of the most influential politicians of his generation.

Kennedy's alcohol problems can be seen in a larger context.

Charles Kennedy’s alcohol problem was also Britain’s alcohol problem, by Hadley Freeman (The Guardian)

For the past decade, Charles Kennedy was treated by too many people as little more than a joke. This is, and was, in no way a reflection on the reportedly delightful man himself or his excellent abilities as a politician. It might not be so comfortable for some to remember now, seeing as the coverage of his very sad and all too early death has been focusing on Kennedy’s many strengths, with much emphasis being placed on his stand against the Iraq war.

Yet until yesterday, I hadn’t heard much mention of this for 10 years. Instead, whenever Kennedy’s name has been invoked on topical news shows – by half-assed comedians, by too many members of the public – it has been followed by a joking reference to his drinking problem.

Note the title of this 1999 profile of Kennedy, written as he was about to assume leadership of the Liberal Democrats. His brief period living in Bloomington, Indiana during a time when Indiana University enjoyed a nationwide reputation as a "party" school makes me wonder whether any friends ever crossed paths with him.

Profile: Charles Kennedy - The liberal party animal, by Donald MacIntyre (The Independent)

(Kennedy) was president of the university union before winning a Fulbright scholarship to Indiana University where he went to do to a PhD - and teach - political rhetoric after a spell working as a seasonal radio reporter in the BBC Highland office in Inverness. He was at Indiana University when the Liberal/SDP Alliance candidacy for the seat of Ross, Cromarty and Skye came up. Among several people he consulted was his former colleague - and later the BBC's hugely respected Scottish political editor - the late Kenny Macintyre, who had been something of a mentor and had urged him to have a crack at it. His father Ian toured the constituency, the largest in Britain - "two million acres of mountain glen and moors" as Kennedy junior described it - with his son, playing the fiddle to attract the more apolitical to meetings. At one, in Skye, a wag urged him not to prolong his speech shouting: "Aye, we know who you are, now come on Ian give us another tune."

Kennedy won the election at the tender age of 23. He was only 55 when he died.

Perhaps sometimes, being precocious isn't the best design for life.

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