I know it's a cliché, but Howard Metzenbaum, Shirley, his four daughters and his son-in-law were almost like family to me during the formative years of my young adulthood in Cleveland, then Washington. Our closeness survived the sometimes tough confrontations between a reporter and a senator.

The public figure could be a royal pain, to be honest, at the same time the private man was being warm and supportive. So, of course, I will miss him and join the extended Metzenbaum clan in mourning his departure.

He was at his most irritating while fighting the lonely battles for labor, for consumers, against special interests, against deregulation. A wealthy man himself, he was, nevertheless, the champion of the powerless against the powerful.

He lost more than he won. As a result we're left with a system where the predators get to run amok. It's not hard to understand why our economy is in the toilet, why the rich now get to run roughshod over everyone else.

There are few of his ilk left. They've been replaced by sloganeering nihilists, who have mastered the art of marketing in a media world that is run by the same wealthy people who have a strong interest in the status quo. They would probably find a Sen. Metzenbaum intolerable.

Howard Metzenbaum left a wonderful legacy, both to his nation and to me personally. I got to witness his many quirks, both close-up and as a reporter. There were times when he wouldn't speak to me for a while because he didn't like my coverage, but it would pass. It always did. You can see why I will miss him personally. The entire country will. He spoke for all of us, even when we didn't listen.