Mike Causey didn’t like getting up in the middle of the night. That’s how I ended up as his successor and colleague. More on that later.
Mike, who passed away at 82 yesterday, made a newsroom somehow more fun and alive simply for his being in it. Causey was a rare bird. At once a throwback to an earlier era and a man totally in today’s swim, Mike was one-of-a-kind. I can say that because I’m no spring chicken. Having 45 years of professional work under my belt, I’ve known a few people.
Even so, my pride would swell when, on occasion, Mike would pop his head into my studio and comment, “Great piece on [so and so]. Wish I’d written it.”
Mike was a great reporter in part because he loved telling stories. And, man, could he tell ‘em! His 30-odd years at the Washington Post provided him with a lifetime of tales from that once-storied newsroom, back when people with deep roots in Washington, D.C. owned the paper.
He was also a great reporter because he learned in a deep way what mattered to his Federal Diary, and later, his daily Federal Report columns. He had the sources, both human and data, that enabled him to report in detail on what federal civil servants cared about. They formed the core of a large and loyal following.
Mike was a great columnist because, even within his relatively arcane field of expertise, he was always reporting something new, always expanding the angles.
I admired his breezy, down-to-earth way of writing, laced with humor. He connected with his readers in a profound and enduring way. The occasions when I’ve written about some Causey-like topic, somehow I’ve never drawn the online page views, in modern parlance, that Mike regularly drew. I don’t think anyone ever will.
I wish you could see the condolences coming in from all quarters — his readers, my readers (I wrote his obit), the federal employee unions, organizations connected to or supportive of the federal workforce, association people.
So how did I end up succeeding Mike Causey when I joined Federal News Network, then called Federal News Radio, back in late 2007?
Mike had been the co-host of The Federal Drive with Mike Causey and Jane Norris for several years, but it wasn’t quite working out. Mike just didn’t want to get up at 2:30 in the morning to be at the radio station by 4 a.m. to be ready for a show starting at 6 a.m. He prevailed on management to let him concentrate on his column and on a weekly show called Your Turn, which he did until this week. I got the call from then-program director Lisa Wolfe, to see if I wanted to become co-host of the Federal Drive.
When I started here, I was a little intimidated by the thought of meeting Mike Causey. I knew who he was. I was aware of his reputation. I wondered if he’d be like so many Washington marquee journalists: strutting, self-important blowhards. I had an editor once who described such people as thinking their poop is chocolate ice cream.
But Causey? He was so unpretentious, so down-to-earth, so welcoming, he floored me. I couldn’t help but like him immediately. People liked Mike because he liked people.
And oh, the stories. So often he’d come waltzing over to my studio, a newspaper or magazine opened to some absurd article, close the door conspiratorially, and present the offending piece.
“Can you believe this?” he’d ask.
Mike was particularly acidic about TV or entertainment characters whose attempts at humor were overwhelmed by their pompousness or their dreary political orthodoxies. Mike would comment to the effect, he or she “is just not funny.”
As I reported in his obituary, Mike died at his desk, on the job. I and others asked him on more than one occasion why he didn’t retire and take it a little easier, enjoy his extended family more. His basic answer was, he liked being in the conversation, in the swim, engaged. I think he didn’t want to become a bore.
Always self-effacing about his work, he let the columns and the immense readership speak for themselves. Only once did he express the slightest pride to me. Referring to his 50-years of writing columns daily, he commented, “People think it’s easy. And it is … for a week.”
Mike was old fashioned in many ways. No bag lunch guy, he ate out nearly every day. In our old Cleveland Park studios, he was a regular at the now-defunct Café De Luxe. Until yesterday, he ate at another D.C. institution, Clyde’s, just steps from the front door of our building in Chevy Chase. He was basically a private person. He talked occasionally about his family and deep past, but wasn’t given to expounding on personal matters.
His office was legendary for the mess. His desk, chairs, windowsills and the floor along the back were always piled high with ever-morphing piles of stuff. I can now confess to sometimes scavenging items — mugs, maybe, or a nice gimme pen — just to see if he noticed.
As the years wore on, the technology of journalism got a bit away from Mike, and he depended more on some of our younger staff members for help. They appreciated him for never patronizing them nor treating them as anything but colleagues.
Funny and upbeat as he was, Causey’s life wasn’t continuously charmed. I won’t betray confidences. But he had personal challenges and setbacks. I worried about him when his son Steven passed away in January. Mike was outwardly stoic about it, but I sensed a change. A fall at home a couple of months back seemed to age him visibly. Falls for people in their 80s are serious events. But he soon reappeared in the office, tapping out the columns and adding to the piles of papers.
I last talked to Mike on Friday. We make wisecracks to one another about this or that, maybe King Charles III might’ve come up. Because of Rosh Hashanah, I was not in the office yesterday when the end came.
Mike Causey was anything but maudlin. So, to honor him, I won’t be either. In fact, I’ll light and enjoy a cigar as a toast to him. He loved cigars.
Mike had sentiment, but wasn’t sentimental. He was a great conversationalist, but somewhat enigmatic. His knowledge was totally up to date, but he still defaulted to Henny Youngman as a reference for what’s funny. He was courtly to all, but loved an off-color joke behind a closed door. He understood people and could size up anyone, but never had anything mean or bitter to say.
The federal workforce and the Washington journalism scene have lost a man who was both a towering figure and a regular guy. Here at Federal News Network, we’ve lost a beloved colleague and, if I may say, a hero. And me personally? I have lost a friend, the daily exchanges with whom I shall miss, but whose work and work ethic I will always admire.
If you would like to offer any memories or condolences, please feel free to send them to Federal News Network via our comments form. Or, if you’d prefer leave a voice recording, we’ve set up a special line for this purpose. Call us toll-free at (844) 305-1500.