A Tribute to Rush Limbaugh

February 17th, 2021 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

As most you you know by now, Rush Limbaugh’s death from cancer was announced this morning. I suspected he would work right up to the end, and we would learn of his death when we least expected it. That was just Rush.

I don’t know when I started listening to him. I suspect it wasn’t long after his radio show became nationally syndicated in 1988. Like many of his life-long listeners, Rush was able to articulate things we were feeling at the time, but could not express very well.

As a tribute, I thought I would share some personal anecdotes about the man. There are so many things that his detractors get wrong.

It’s been over 10 years since I called into the show to talk about global warming. I wanted to support his views at the time. It was late in the 3-hour show that day, and he liked what I was saying, and asked if I could continue the conversation the next day.

They investigated my background overnight, and the next day he was excited to have an actual climate scientist on his side. That night we had a long e-mail conversation talking about how similar our backgrounds were growing up.

Within days he was calling me the “Chief Climatologist of the EIB Network”. An unpaid position, but he knew that mentioning my name on the radio was plenty payment enough; it led to many speaking opportunities in the years that followed. He provided me with his “super-secret” email address, and that’s how we would correspond from then on.

He immediately suggested I write my first book, and when it came out he plugged it on the show quite a few times. Within a couple weeks, his influence got the book on the NYT bestsellers list. When I told him the news, he had a typically funny response, “Watch out, Oprah!”

Over the last 10 years, he has always read my emails to him, and responded when appropriate. I could usually tell when it was something he would use on the air (and it was usually not related to climate). It took years before I got used to the idea that he was actually interested in what I had to say.

Not long after all this started, my family and I were visiting my daughter who was in law school in Miami, and Rush found out I was in the area. He invited us over to his house in Palm Beach on a Saturday, where his extended Missouri family was visiting for an annual sports weekend for a Missouri football game. Rush was a very gracious host, and his family and relatives are very friendly. He showed me around his palatial estate, showed me how his new cochlear implant worked, and gave me a tour of his climate-controlled cigar room. I was struck by how “average” of a guy he was on a personal level.

But my favorite memory of that visit was of David Limbaugh and my daughter (the law student) having a discussion about law while standing around the pool table. Rush was listening in (he would stroll from room to room to make sure all of his guests were being taken care of).

I was marveling at the whole experience: here was my daughter discussing law with David Limbaugh while Rush listened. I will never forget the surreal feeling I had in that moment.

He then entered the conversation (I don’t recall the specific subject) to explain about how the Bush administration had sent people down to Palm Beach more than once to change his mind on some issue. But he wouldn’t budge.

But that was Rush. He wasn’t a ‘political’ animal in the usual sense. He had specific conservative principles, and if the current Republican president violated them, Rush would not hesitate to call them on it.

Rush was the same person, on the air and off the air.

In the intervening years I would have hundreds of discussions with Rush, usually not on climate-related issues. I always marveled at his boundless energy… he always took time to find out what I wanted to say to him. Several times he would remember things I told him that I had forgotten I had told him!. Once I asked him, “How do you remember so much stuff?”. His silly answer was, “It’s the booze”.

Rush had a a unique combination of talents that probably won’t come together again. In addition to his unabashed conservativism, he could articulate those principles in a way that resonated with his listeners. He had a quick mind, perfect timing on the radio, a great radio voice, and he knew how to run a business. He had a great sense of humor; many of Paul Shanklin’s parody songs came from Rush’s ideas, and one even came from me, and one from my wife. I also gave him some advice on how to make the show better (something that I told him was confusing for listeners), which he actually took and implemented.

But the most important talent that distinguished Rush from the pack of radio personalities who sought to emulate his success was that he was genuinely kind to his callers, even if they disagreed with him. He let them speak. He praised them when there was merit to the points they were making, even if it seemed to be a stretch to praise them. Every liberal viewpoint that was called into the show was used as a teachable moment.

We are sorry we lost you so early, Rush.

Well done.

410 Responses to “A Tribute to Rush Limbaugh”

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