Sunday, June 15, 2008

A passing of a true American friend

When I saw Tim Russert's face pop up on my email news bulletin Friday afternoon I smiled.

It's naturally what I do when I see Tim Russert's image or hear his jovial voice on Meet The Press because good souls just inspire that kind of reaction. But within a split second I was in tears, when I, like many others, realized that this amazing man had actually passed away.

I was stunned and somehow unable to completely take in what I had read or believe it fully.

To me, there is no equal of him in journalism...but moreover there is no equal of him in the kind of integrity he embodied. This is Big Russ's son afterall. Buffalo's own son.

I graduated from St Bonaventure with a degree in journalism in 2000...but I was not nearly as excited about our commencement speaker (Michael Bloomberg), as I was the following year when Tim Russert was scheduled to speak My friend Deidre gave me her extra ticket so I could attend.

Truthfully, it was as though I had a ticket to see a rock star. But the man who stepped to the podium bore no pretenses and carried no celebrity air. He seized the respect of everyone present but managed to do so without the accompanying idolotry that typifies celebrity and he did so with that trademark down-to-earth nature and jovial spirit. It was as if a neighbor was speaking to us, not the journalistic icon he had risen up the ranks to be. Somehow to me he felt like the kind of neighbor you could borrow a cup of sugar from and an autograph in the same breath.

Four months before our nation's darkest day I watched Tim Russert give the St. Bonaventure class of 2001 a speech I will never forget. In all his success and all his many phenomenal accomplishments he chose to speak most about his family and his roots. He spoke with a palpable love of his Dad and the debt he owed him for all the lessons he learned. From my seat in the audience I could feel the sincerity of his words, it was from the heart. That day he was awarded an honorary doctorate and I couldn't help but feel tears rolling down my cheeks when he proudly donned a Bonnies cap to show his appreciation for us. Something about him and his spirit grabbed a hold of us all. Although not his alma mater, he expressed a similair warmth for our school as he had shared with all things Western NY.

Of all the things he could have shared with us, the countless stories of the famous, the infamous and iconic, it was the stories he told about his common working class boyhood that enthralled the audience, and left me spellbound from my seat in the Reilly Center Arena. I laughed as he joked with Bonaventure staff about the rivalry he had with our school...Jesuits vs. Franciscan education.

That day Tim Russert said in that speech that the greatest exercise of the human heart is to reach out and help someone else. I am reminded of that as I look at all the people in my life who have helped me through trials and I likewise. Perhaps we lose sight of that sometimes. We get so bogged down with the attainment of possessions, status, wealth and climbing or ascending to some version of "success". It sometimes seems counterintuitive that a person who does good or promotes kindness in the world can succeed. And of course it challenges a firmly held misconception of success when a person who ascends to such a height keeps their connections with the life before noteriety.

Tim Russert was so much more than a journalist and a tv personality. He was so much more than a political analyst. He embodied things that America used to pride itself on, but didn't push it like a gimick. I have to think he was the real deal...and I will miss my Sunday mornings with Tim.

1 comment:

Sharon Cahoon said...

I don't think television will ever be able to replace him. How many other journalist do you know who can so thoroughly report the truth without impressing it with his own opinion? I will miss him!