Monday, June 23, 2008

Remembering Tim Russert

On Friday, the 13th, NBC commentator and host of Meet The Press, Tim Russert, collapsed and died at his desk in Washington, D.C. I wrote about his passing briefly in my Father's Day entry last week.

In the ten days since Russert's passing there have been non-stop stories lauding him as a
great commentator, father, husband, son, friend and colleague. His memorial service at Lincoln Center in Washington was attended by thousands.

During the day on the 13th, as I was making what turned out to be a much-longer-than-expected drive north, I had the opportunity to hear many, many speakers comment on Russert. Many addressed his strong family ties and mentioned his two books, the first of which chronicled his relationship with his father, "Big Russ". Others spoke of his relationship with his son, Luke, who had just graduated from Boston College.

It is hard not to admire a man who has obviously touched so many people so positively. Those he interviewed with tough but fair questions praised him. Those who worked with him revered him. Through all these accolades comes the prevailing thought - Tim Russert was a good man.

The best piece I've read about Russert was published in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal on Saturday by author Peggy Noonan, a frequent contributor to the weekend pages. Her piece, entitled, " A Life's Lesson", spoke of the many other tributes paid to Russert over the previous week, and during his memorial service just a day before. To avoid the risk of mis-quoting Noonan, let me provide you with a couple excerpts from her column:

After Tim's death, the entire television media for four days told you the keys to a life well lived, the things you actually need to live life well, and without which it won't be good. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they're loved, which involves self-sacrifice; holding firm to God, to your religious faith, no matter how high you rise or low you fall. This involves guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field. And enjoying life. This can be hard in America, where sometimes people are rather grim in their determination to get and to have. "Enjoy life, it's ungrateful not to," said Ronald Reagan.

Tim had these virtues. They were great to see. By defining them and celebrating them the past few days, the media encouraged them. This was a public service, and also what you might call Tim's parting gift."


"One of the greatest statements, the most piercing, was something Chuck Todd said when he talked on a panel on MSNBC. He was asked more or less why Tim stuck out from the pack, and he said, "He was normal!" In a city, Washington, in which many powerful people are deep down weird, or don't have a deep down, only a surface, Tim was normal. Like a normal man he cared about his family and his profession and his faith. Pat Buchanan later said they're not making them now like they used to, Tim's normality is becoming the exception. The world of Russert—stability, Catholic school, loving parents, TV shows that attempted only to entertain you and not to create a new moral universe in your head—that's over, that world is gone. He had a point, though it's not gone entirely of course, just not as big, or present, as it used to be."

Russert, a bear of a man, was devout, loyal, dedicated to his friends, family, profession and his beloved Buffalo Bills - a man any of us would do well to emulate. I cannot count the number of speakers and writers who, when bemoaning his passing, mentioned that the current political campaign season will not be the same without him.

I will miss Tim Russert, my Sunday morning companion who used his Meet The Press pulpit to gently strip away the pomposity and superficiality of many politicians, leaving them bloodied but somehow grateful for the shellacking they'd just endured. I will miss his unabashed enthusiasm for his job, his family and, oh yes, those Buffalo Bills. I will do my best to follow the instruction he frequently left ringing in the ears of his friends - "Go Gettem!"



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