- First day in New York after Los Angeles. A very
hot, very hot day, after a very hot night where it felt like
the furnace was outside your door.
There was a funeral at the Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th
Avenue for Neal Travis, the New York Post columnist who died last
week of cancer at 62.
Neal, born in New Zealand, began his career in journalism in Australia where
he made friendships that he took with him for the rest of his life. He later
wrote a novel, worked in tabloid television (Hot Copy) and a number
of years ago began his column in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post, serving
the dish on the famous and infamous five times a week.
He and his wife Tolly, a warm and friendly woman who was seemingly always
at his side, were popular members of the New York social scene and particularly
the tables up at Elaines.
There they often congregated with their buddies many of whom were journalists
and politicians frequently and with notable conviviality.
Neal was out of the old school of journalism where style, story and personality
were unfettered by the issues of ego and celebrity that afflict a lot of people
in the business today. Small, silver-haired and slight in stature, he wore a
perpetual impish grin and had the eyes of a pixie. Not pugnacious, but thoroughly
his own man, he could and did mingle with anybody with ease and je ne sais
quoi (not his kind of word, incidentally, but very applicable to his disposition).
was a very democratic reporter. Friends of all, he was never
thwarted by his friendships in reporting a story if it was
a scoop or a scandal. That impish grin and those pixie eyes
related trenchantly when necessary. Former Senator Al DAmato,
one of those giving the eulogies today, a long time friend
of Neal, recalled that when it came to reporting about the
goings-on of his friends, Neal did his job. And the friendships
continued, and in the end, as in the beginning, were shared
with many laughs.
The mass was conducted by Father Pete Colapietro, who was also a close
friend of Neal and a frequent guest at the Travises round tables at Elaines.
A big Italian-American man, he spoke in the manner of an old friend, intimately,
with a booming voice and the familiarity of a buddy. Ive never experienced
a member of the clergy with such an open, laid-back, yet authoritative quality
to his conduct of religious ritual. It added to the poignancy of the afternoon.
The service began at 2:30. There were several hundred friends and acquaintances.
I saw Raoul Felder, Richard Johnson, Vickie Ward and her husband Matt
Doull, CZ Guest, Danny Zarem, Couri Hay, Ann Rapp, Sharon Sondes, Liz Smith,
Nancy Holmes, Catherine Saxton, Carl Bernstein, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel,
Sir Howard Stringer, Denise Rich, Tommy Corcoran, Sharon Hoge, Bill and Adair
Beutel, Kathy Sloane, Elaine Kaufman of course. The ushers were Colin
Myler, Robert Zimmerman, Bill Bratton and Geoffrey Thomas. The pallbearers
were Steve Dunleavy, Sidney Zion, Bill OShaunnessy, Marty Richards,
Micky Brennan, Jerry Della Femina and Col Allen, the editor of the New
Ambassador Carl Spielvogel gave the Old Testament Reading, Andrew Stein gave
the New Testament reading and Claudia Cohen read the Prayer of the Faithful.The
mass included eulogies by Steve Dunleavy, former Governor Mario Cuomo,
Col Allan, Ron Konecky, former Senator DAmato and Ann Downey. Steve Dunleavy
had known Neal since they were teenagers in Australia. Mario Cuomo paid tribute
to Neals fellowship recalling how Neal once mistook him for Al DAmato who
sat on the other side of the political aisle also a great friend.
It was a very emotional service because there were so many who had so much affection
for Neal, so many who are personally going to miss his company, and so many who
grieved over Tolly Travis great loss. Tolly, in black dress and wide-brim
black hat with two long stems of two very large white lilies wrapped around it,
was shattered by the loss of her husband. The many of us who knew them felt her
grief and anguish; they were a team, the ideal couple in the eyes of many. When
each finished, Tolly got up to thank them. Several times during the service Tolly
Travis got up from her seat and embraced her husbands shrouded casket.
At the end of the service of almost two hours of tears and laughter, Lesley
Gore, another old and devoted friend told about visiting Neal in his hospital
room only last week. Before she left, he was having his screwdriver and his favorite
sushis delivered for his dinner. He went out living his life as he always lived
his life: his way. She then sang a song she wrote some time ago, remarking that
Neal would have asked her to sing Its My Party (and Ill Cry
if I Want To), adding that he would have requested the dirty version. Gores
song today, I Am On My Own was very effective and touching for the
moment. Then came the Final Commendation and Farewell; the congregation rose
along with the pallbearers; Frank Sinatra singing I Did It My Way began
to play over the speaker system, and the processional to the burial began.
I never knew him well and although we were contemporaries, I always regarded
him as the ultimate old pro, someone one looks up to as one might look up to
an elder, with respect. He was nevertheless, always hail-fellow-well-met toward
me, with the warmth of a friend; always encouraging and quick to compliment especially
in the presence of others. He shared what he had, much of which was that warmth
and humor, that worldliness that included everybody. He had been ill, growing
progressively worse over the past year. None of it seemed to affect his attitude
about his life, his work, and his world of friends. He approached his end with
the same bemused insouciance that he approached everything in life. Without
an ounce of self-pity, as his friend Steve Dunleavy observed, and always
with that wry little grin that warmed us all.