An unlikely friendship drew former President Bill Clinton to a sunny hilltop in the Laurel Highlands on Saturday, where he paid tribute to the late Tribune-Review owner Richard Mellon Scaife.
"If someone had asked me the day I left the White House what’s the single most unlikely thing I would ever do, this would rank high on the list," Clinton told about 150 Trib Total Media employees, who gathered around the pool at Scaife’s boyhood home in Penguin Court for the memorial. Scaife died July 4, a day after his 82nd birthday.
A founder and funder of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, Scaife’s opposition to Clinton marked much of the latter’s two terms as president. But the acrimony softened after Clinton left office in 2001, and the two became friends, with Scaife supporting Clinton’s foundation and his wife’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Clinton said he’s "grateful" to former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a mutual friend, for convincing Clinton that he and Scaife had more in common than he thought. The two met on July 31, 2007, in the Harlem offices of the Clinton Foundation. Scaife later donated more than $100,000 to the foundation.
"Our differences are important. Our political differences, our philosophical differences, our religious differences, our racial and ethnic differences, they’re important. They help us to define who we are," Clinton said. "But they don’t have to keep us at arm’s length from others."
Clinton used his reconciliation with Scaife and the friendship the two forged as an example of what’s missing in conflicts from Capitol Hill to Gaza.
"I think the counterintuitive friendship we formed is a good symbol of Richard Mellon Scaife’s legacy. He fought as hard as he could for what he believed, but he never thought he had to be blind or deaf" to re-evaluating his positions, no matter how closely held, Clinton said.
The description "counterintuitive" was borrowed from his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used the word to describe her meeting with Tribune-Review reporters and editors in 2008, during the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania.
The paper’s editorial board endorsed Hillary Clinton in the April primary election, and Scaife penned an opinion piece praising the New York Democrat.
"You need to know that she treasures that column and that experience," Clinton said.
The sprawling hilltop estate in Ligonier, with sweeping views of the Laurel Highlands, was named for the 10 penguins that once roamed the grounds after Scaife’s mother, Sarah, bought them following a famed Antarctic expedition by Richard Byrd.
H. Yale Gutnick, Scaife’s longtime friend and attorney, introduced the 42nd president, saying Scaife asked him before his death to invite Clinton to the memorial to make it a special day. Gutnick is chairman of the Trib Total Media board of directors.
A 50-room mansion built by Scaife’s parents once stood on the estate. After they died, Scaife built his own estate, Vallamont, on a nearby mountain in 1961. He tore down the stone mansion at Penguin Court, but preserved a portion of the broad stone foundation that extends from the hillside and supports a wide, flat lawn, as well as the property’s cobblestone driveway, ornate stone benches and 120-foot-long greenhouse. A passionate horticulturalist who kept fresh flowers throughout his homes, he built a conservatory near where the house once stood.
Scaife willed the property and $15 million for its maintenance to the Philadelphia-area Brandywine Conservancy, on whose board of trustees he served.
Clinton said he was "moved" by a series of columns Scaife wrote in the Trib, first announcing his terminal cancer and then explaining the passions of his life, newspapers chief among them.
"I wish he’d have been able to write more," Clinton said. "I was really moved by what he said about all of you and journalism as a profession and making sure that his papers were in a position to be there for our children and our grandchildren."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter