WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong

The lyrics of Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler” are applicable in many places today, from sports to politics and beyond.

In the classic western, “Shane”, the hero has sharp words with greedy land baron, Ryker, about violence and the days of the gunfighter being finished. Ryker implies it’s “over” for gunslingers like Shane.  Shane retorts “Yes, it is. The difference is — I know it.

The closing scene of another classic western,  “The Magnificent Seven,” has the same message. After the heroic gunfighters have driven a horde of bandits away from a poor village, they are thanked by an elder who tells them the farmers are the only victors because they survive to continue normal lives. Will the gunmen be able to ride or walk away from the profession that has given them fame and money?

The Magnificent Seven

As the two surviving gunfighters reluctantly leave the calm of the village, Chris (Yul Brynner) wryly observes. “The old man was right. Only the farmers have won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

It’s the observation that their way of life is essentially over. They need to find a new way to live if it is possible.  The day of the feared, idolized gunfighter is passing into history before their eyes. It’s a bittersweet ending for our heroes.

As I write, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving the Los Angeles Chargers a nasty whipping in a playoff game that many felt would show cracks in the vaunted Patriots’ success, would show signs that Brady, the esteemed “GOAT” (Greatest of all time) would show age catching up with him.  So far, Brady and the Patriots are winning,  running the table with impressive success.

If victory is sustained, will Tom Brady continue to play until he’s in his mid-40s — or retire while he’s still at the top of his game and is recognized as the greatest quarterback in professional football history? It appears to be a no-brainer for Brady while many of his greatest admirers feel Tom Terrific should walk away he’s still physically intact.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When to walk away is a problem faced by many successful people who never want the music, money, or applause to stop.

In politics, it goes beyond the lives of the public official and his family. It impacts countless families represented by the Pol. Power is the elixir that our elected officials are reluctant to yield.

John McCormack with President Ford

I remember afternoons with the legendary John McCormack,  the one time widely respected Speaker of the House. I lunched with McCormack who usually sat alone at one of Boston’s iconic restaurants. “Old Man Mac” as he was affectionately called by friends, would observe people at other tables. Usually younger politicians, their aides, and lobbyists trying to curry favor.

“Mac” would chuckle to himself, wiggling his fingers at the other tables. He’d speak to me in a somewhat hoarse voice. “Son, those fellas don’t get it. It’s not a game. They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’re ignorant and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

I’d listen closely as this venerable man schooled me in living history. He said the younger officials were making deals for reelection while ignoring promises made in their previous campaign. He laughed sadly, “You’ll never get the job done unless you listen to the people. It takes years.”

He paused, shook his head and continued, “Just when you get to know what you’re doing, it’s time to walk away.”   I stared at John McCormack. “You must walk away because you’re too old. Your mind argues with your body. But it’s obvious when you shave with toothpaste.”

I repressed a smile but he was laughing. “It’s not funny, really. You’re young, but it’ll happen to you. Trust me.”

I remember sharing the McCormack stories with Tip O’Neill, another widely respected Speaker of the House who shared lunches and stories with me.

Garry with Tip O’Neill

All Politics Are Local was O’Neill’s mantra. He was a man of his word. He nodded in agreement about John McCormack’s advice about knowing when to walk away. Tip O’Neill was keen about helping young politicians who could “carry the ball” when he walked away. He shared stories about colleagues who snored their way through crucial hearings. I’m sure Tip had advice for then young and rising Congressmen like Ed Markey — who we profiled in a shameless rip off of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

These days, we look at video snippets of veteran pols who walk in lock step with the President.  These are seasoned officials who’ve made countless promises to do the right thing for their constituents. The recent mid-term elections were loud mandates for some of these pols that it’s time to walk away from the table.

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler



It appears some of our leaders prefer to hold their cards. Maybe they should listen to “The Gambler” again.

2020 is coming … and hell’s coming with it.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

23 thoughts on “WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong”

    1. Honor and dedication. They were talking about it on CNN last night, regarding you know who.
      Joe Kennedy III is interesting to watch. I wonder if he has the grit to deal with the anti-Kennedy bias that’s out there.

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    1. Melanie, I agree. I wonder who in the growing horde of Democratic Presidential hopefuls has “the right stuff” for what promises to be an ugly campaign in ’20.

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      1. I’m wondering who they’ll come up with AND how much that person’s background will take if someone is looking for dirt. Because, strictly my own opinion, it’s damned hard to find anyone who isn’t corrupt in the political arena.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Melanie, we ALL have something in the closet – it’s just human nature. Political hopefuls need to be open (Transparent?) and get any negatives out front early. The media is a greedy beast (Yes, I was one!) with a 24/7 appetite. Today’s “hot” story is frequently forgotten with the next piece of “breaking news”. You need thick skin.

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          1. Elephant or rhinoceros hide. Thanks for sharing your perspectives from ‘behind the camera (or in front more precisely)) I have come to look at the reporter a whole lot differently thanks to you !

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