Subscribe

Why Woodward and Bernstein came to town

CHRIS SMITH,

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT COLUMNIST

Iced tea accompanied a historic moment in Santa Rosa this past weekend when famed Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein came by to see and thank their secret source, 95-year-old Mark "Deep Throat" Felt.

The two-hour visit at Felt's home was an especially big deal to Bernstein. He had never before met Felt, the FBI's former No. 2 man and one-time heir apparent to J. Edgar Hoover.

Back in the early 1970s, when Felt furtively and bravely helped guide two young Washington Post reporters onto a trail of corruption that led to Richard Nixon's White House, it was always Woodward who rendezvoused in the shadows with his highly placed source.

For Joan Felt, who lives with her father and his attendant, Yara Tikoilakeba, in a house off Guerneville and Marlow roads, it was potent and enthralling to sit in her own living room with her dad and the storied Woodward-Bernstein.

"They were just so gracious and so loving," Joan said. "They really thanked Dad for his contributions."

Also there was John O'Connor, the attorney and family friend who co-authored Felt's biography, "A G-Man's Life." O'Connor also penned the 2005 Vanity Fair story that resolved one of America's most enduring political intrigues by revealing that Mark Felt was indeed Watergate's Deep Throat.

Joan said her father, who has lost most of his long-term memory, had lit up when she told him Woodward and Bernstein were coming to Northern California for a speaking engagement and had asked to stop by. The duo made a rare joint appearance Monday before a crowd of nearly 800 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.

Woodward told reporters afterward that the visit with Felt "was like a family reunion.

"He's 95. He's full of dignity and grace. He doesn't have a memory, really. But there was a connection we made."

Bernstein said it was quite clear to him that Mark Felt "had moments of clarity.

"He recognized some things," he said. "It was a private visit -- a closing of the circle. We are both very glad we did it. It was evident he was glad."

Joan Felt said her father was extremely glad. At one point, she shared, Woodward told her dad that he seemed to be doing well at 95, and he replied, "I'm not 1,000 percent. I'm only 889 percent."

Though Felt endures the effects of congestive heart failure, his daughter said he's doing fantastically compared with how he fared in recent weeks and months. He was in the hospital six weeks ago with pneumonia and declined so steeply that his family initiated hospice care.

Then he rallied and came home. Joan said his vitality was much improved when, about a month ago, she took him for a drive to Sonoma. Her father loves drives.

It was a warm day, Joan said, and her car's air conditioning wasn't working. She believes he became too warm, and he fainted. Then he appeared to stop breathing.

"I thought he had died," his daughter said.

Knowing he would not want to be resuscitated, she turned toward home. She said her goodbyes to the national and personal hero slumped in the seat beside her. She used her cell phone to call her dad's utterly dedicated attendant, Tikoilakeba, and gently inform him that his friend had crossed over.

Joan said her car had just crossed into the Santa Rosa city limits on Sonoma Highway when, "All of a sudden, he opens his eyes and says, 'Where am I?!' "

Mark Felt has had more good days since then, the best being the one when Woodward and Bernstein went well out of their way to come and catch up over a glass of tea.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.