I was a young reporter headed to our nation’s capitol for the first time.
Prior to that, I had covered some big events, including Penn State football overtime thrillers against Michigan and Wisconsin, along with the trials and tribulations of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
But now, I was on my way to Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s “Best of U.S.” awards following the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. I was there to write about our beloved Stephanie Jallen after she won two bronze medals in Sochi.
I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone in D.C. and had never been there (except for a field trip in 10th grade). However, I did have one person in my back pocket, and I’m honored to have spent time with him in D.C. before his passing.
John P. Cosgrove, a Pittston native and former president of the National Press Club, passed away Oct. 15. He was 98 years old.
Current National Press Club President Thomas Burr released a statement to members of the club on Oct. 16, announcing the passing of John.
“He was our longest living president, and I think we all know he occupied a giant place in our history,” Burr wrote. “He was a sailor, a proud Irishman and a journalist at heart. We knew him by the twinkle in his eye, and his ready quip and his warm way with all.”
When I first met up with John in D.C., he told me stories while we sipped on a few beverages at his residence, which is actually in the same building as the Newseum, only a few blocks away from the Capitol. The Newseum opened in 2008 and includes exhibits highlighting the communication industry, as well as historical events.
I was there when the Newseum had an exhibit with pieces of the Berlin Wall, along with its popular 9/11 exhibits with artifacts from the World Trade Center.
That’s where our day started. John gave me an all-access tour of the Newseum. When we walked in, it was like the skies opened as all the employees knew him. We took the tour, which ended on top of the Newseum, looking at the Capitol.
I was given a history lesson about the buildings we could see from that vantage point. He told me how and why each was built. He told me about his time as president of the National Press Club, and gave me good advice for my young journalism career, even though I wasn’t into politics at the time.
We left the Newseum and headed to the National Press Club, which might as well be a country club for journalists. Again, John was known by everyone and had his lunch prepared exactly the way he liked it. We ate lunch and he continued to tell me stories about key club members, and the stories the place would tell if the walls could talk.
At this point, it was time to head to the Warner Theater for the awards ceremony. We flagged down a cab that took us back to the Newseum.
I thought the last time I would see John was in front of the Newseum when I was about to leave D.C. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with him recently.
John’s name might sound familiar to people in Greater Pittston. When he decided it was time to close his office at the press club, he donated most of his political and journalism belongings to the Pittston Memorial Library — and wrote a check to the library for $50,000. He was in attendance when the John P. Cosgrove Center was dedicated at the library.
When John was a young man, he hopped on the political train and headed to D.C. to see if he could make a difference. Not only is he considered one of the most influential presidents of the National Press Club, he proved that coming from a smaller town, anything is possible.
John began working at the National Press Club in 1937 as part of the Associated Press. He held an office there for more than 70 years. He was part of a laundry list of functions while serving the press club. President John F. Kennedy attended John’s inauguration as press club president in 1961. Rarely did the Pittston native miss a club function.
I’m not sure if John ever considered me a friend, but I am forever in debt to him for the hospitality he showed me while I toured Washington. I’ve been back to the city several times since then and, because of him, I always know where I’m going.