A glorious gala! (38621)

Bill, you would have loved it!!

No matter where you were at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for the gala celebration of the Amsterdam News‘ centennial Monday evening, Wilbert “Bill” Tatum’s presence resonated.

Snippets of his editorials were among the paper strips hanging from the trees in the lobby and on the table ornaments; even among the creative flowers cut from the newspaper, his name could be seen.

But his presence radiated best from the podium, from his daughter Elly’s opening remarks, to Rev. Al Sharpton’s invocation, to each of the honorees and their presenters; Bill’s name was invoked, each speaker sharing a memorable moment with the former publisher who made his worldly departure in February.

He was around just long enough to set the paper’s 100-year celebration in motion, but to listen to the speakers, it was as if he were in the room, glowering, correcting, lecturing, and at last approving those brave enough to seek his counsel.

During his first interview with Bill and the board of the Amsterdam News when he was seeking the presidency, Bill Clinton said, “I was scared to death…his life is the story of Harlem.”

Even the fearless Rev. Sharpton recalled a few of his conversations with Bill “that usually ended up with him lecturing me for an hour on how, when and what I must do.”

“I loved Bill Tatum,” said Robert Kennedy, Jr., one of the honorees introduced to the crowd by Kenneth Cole. “He understood what environmental justice was all about.”

Another one of the event’s honorees, Bill Lynch, also noted how he was often on the other end of a Bill Tatum lecture. Lynch received a standing ovation upon being introduced by Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, one of the gala’s sponsors, and during his remarks put the evening back on track of its overall purpose of raising funds for the Wilbert A. Tatum Archival Center.

Still, given his reputation as a political consultant, Lynch couldn’t resist declaring, “We’re gonna do it!” indicating his support for Governor David Paterson’s reelection and a promised victory.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, another honoree, also emphasized the evening’s objective, noting that the “Amsterdam News is one of the great newspapers in America and it must be saved,” she commanded. But even she couldn’t avoid sharing a reflection of Bill Tatum. “He was one of the most passionate, provocative, entertaining interviewers I’ve ever met,” she said, recalling her appearances before Bill and the paper’s editorial board.

Honoree R. Donohue Peebles, a highly successful developer and entrepreneur, was equally appreciative of Bill Tatum’s legacy, and he was expressively magnanimous about Bill Thompson and Governor Paterson. “David has stood for us over the years, and now we must stand with him,” Peebles declared, surrendering the podium to the very capable hands of moderator Michelle Miller.

“Bill adopted me,” said Congressman Charles Rangel, the evening’s final honoree, but like the others, he said he got his share of lecturing and lessons from the late publisher and editor.

It was a splendid gala in the memory of Bill Tatum. Elinor Tatum announced that the evening’s event was only $150,000 short of the $1 million goal.

Elly also took a moment to thank the hundreds who had already given considerably to the foundation, and then acknowledged her family, including her mother, Susan; and Bill’s brother and sisters, Herbert, Edna, Lorraine and Yvonne.

“And I’d like to acknowledge the presence of Langley Waller, who is 100 years old and worked at the Amsterdam News back in the 1930s,” Elly said.

Waller was the first engraver at the paper and attended the gala with his daughter, Shirley Williams.

Before the Classic Soul Revue closed the affair, Governor Paterson got the final words. “Bill Tatum wrote 163 front-page editorials demanding that Mayor Koch must resign,” he said.

And with these words, Bill Tatum’s legacy and the future of the foundation in his name was brought full circle, and that is a circle that promises not only to be unbroken, but signals peace and prosperity.