Longtime presidential speechwriter Aram Bakshian died Wednesday from pancreatic cancer, at 78.
Bakshian wrote for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. Perhaps his most lasting contribution was “the Skutnik,” a Bakshian invention that became a State of the Union Address convention that has lasted for four decades.
After an Air Florida plane ditched in the Potomac River on January 13, 1982, a bystander named Lenny Skutnik jumped into the freezing water to save the life of a flight attendant. Bakshian, watching the TV coverage from his speechwriting office in the Reagan White House, thought it would be good to invite Skutnik to impending SOTU and for the president to call him out, saying Skutnik represented “the spirit of American heroism at its finest.”
And “the Skutnik”—the spotlighting of an ordinary citizen as an example of a type of American—was born. It has been used by every United States president ever since.
And now the erudite and old-world-stylish Aram Bakshian, who appeared on a particularly contentious panel of White House speechwriters at the 2017 World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association, is dead.
We welcome remembrances from Bakshian’s colleagues and others who knew him.