Newspapers, Television
Jun 19, 2008


Russert gets a final toast from Washington ; Politicians, journalists remember a ‘patriot’

Craig Wilson, 19 June 2008

WASHINGTON — Tim Russert would have loved it. Lots of stories, lots of politicians, lots of laughs. There was even a nun for good measure.

The host of NBC’s Meet the Press, 58, who died of a heart attack Friday, was praised, ribbed and mourned at a memorial service at the Kennedy Center Wednesday afternoon after a private funeral in Georgetown.

Washington’s elite turned out, including former president Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and enough other senators to field a baseball team, including John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Chuck Schumer; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor under Clinton, Madeleine Albright; and enough journalists to make the politicians nervous.

Tom Brokaw set the tone. He hoisted a Rolling Rock to his longtime friend and said the afternoon was going to be done “Irish style. … Some tears, some laughs and the occasional truth.” He then went on to say Russert had a “strong sense of right and wrong. He came here to be a patriot.”

Brokaw was followed by nine other speakers who, over 11/2 hours, agreed that Russert loved his life, loved his job and loved his family, but not in that order. “There was nothing as important to him as being your father,” Brokaw said to Russert’s son, Luke, 22, who was the final speaker and received a standing ovation.

Luke told the crowd that his father embodied optimism and believed that with “faith, friends and a little folly, anyone can withstand anything.”

Old friend and fellow journalist Al Hunt said Russert, at a time when the news industry struggles to find its way, went the old- fashioned route through “preparation, integrity … and chalkboards.”

Mario Cuomo, the former New York governor for whom Russert worked before entering journalism, said Russert believed politics “could be a saintly profession.”

“It’s not enough to think of him as a great journalist,” Cuomo said. “How else could you explain this outpouring of love?”

Another friend and journalist, Mike Barnicle, said Russert treated everyone “as if they all grew up in the same parish.” California first lady Maria Shriver echoed the thought, talking of the “Russert radar. … He always knew who needed help.”

Sister Lucille Socciarelli, Russert’s seventh-grade teacher who started his journalism career when she named him editor of the school paper, backed that up. She said Russert, when choosing teams in school, “always picked the kid he thought might not be chosen.”

Even Bruce Springsteen, whom Russert adored, showed up via video from Europe to offer a Thunder Road solo. One could almost hear Russert reciting his favorite phrase from above: “Go get ’em!”