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Tony Snow 1955-2008

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From the podium of the White House briefing room, Tony Snow was every bit the happy warrior, parrying with reporters and defending President Bush’s policies with pungent sound bites. Once the cameras were off, however, he liked a good laugh. “People would do a Tony Snow impersonation and he’d say ‘Do it in front of me,'” says Josh Deckard, assistant press secretary during Snow’s 17-month tenure. “He didn’t take himself too seriously.”

The Fox News pundit retained his quick wit during a three-year battle with colon cancer—which claimed his life July 12 at 53. In a bitterly partisan era, Snow never lost the human touch. “He never said a mean word about anybody,” recalls Fox colleague Greta Van Susteren. Adds Deckard: “I’d walk into Tony’s office and say somebody’s going through a difficult time. He’d pick up the phone immediately.”

An avid flute and saxophone player, he jammed with rock band Beats Workin’ and cherished time at home with wife Jill and their three children. What kept him going, he told PEOPLE last year, was the support of family and friends. “Love,” he said, “is a valuable and precious thing.”