Tim Russert (1950-2008) will be sorely missed by many, many people, especially those who knew him personally. I am a “news and political junkie” so I saw him often on NBC. I was also a long time fan and admirer. Like so many I too feel that I lost someone I personally cared about even though I never met the man. Television personalities come and go. Some leave a positive mark. Others make no real difference at all. Tim left a huge mark and made a great and lasting impression. He was a professional and he stood out in an age of “silly” television and bad journalistic methods.
I watched the NBC morning show on Saturday and listened to a one-hour tribute the various news staff of NBC gave to Tim after his sudden passing on Friday, June 13. It was amazing to listen to Tim’s boss, the president of NBC news, as well as his colleagues. Tim was not only the host of the top interview show on Sunday, “Meet the Press,” but he was the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC news. Thus Tim was not only the clever and fair interviewer that we saw each week but also the boss of a very talented news staff. From the people who worked security at the NBC building, to the people who answered to Tim directly as their boss, they all spoke with tenderness and deep feelings about the man himself.
Tim was quite well known as a real caring family guy. He wrote a huge popular best-selling tribute to his dad, Big Russ and Me,
and then published a book of letters (2006) related to that same heart-warming tribute. His dad, a sanitation worker in Buffalo New York and World War II veteran, is still alive. Tim delighted in honoring Big Russ and always said he did news with his own blue-collar roots firmly planted in his mind. Tim’s only child, a son, just graduated from college only a few days ago. He was happily married and deeply loved by his family.
What I personally liked about Russert was his toughness combined with his incredible fairness. He knew how to ask a great question, one clearly formed by thinking deeply about what should be asked, and then he knew then how to listen before he responded. I always knew he would be a professional in every situation and that whatever his own opinion he remain honest and fair. He always commanded my attention when I saw him. I knew enough about Tim to know that he was a Democrat politically but the supreme compliment, in a certain sense, came from my wife when she said, “I never knew what party he belonged to politically.” Tim was feared, in a very respectful sense, and widely respected by members of both parties. Both John McCain and Barack Obama spoke of him in the program that I watched, and both repeated the same lines: “Tim was tough and fair. He was clearly the best interviewer there was.” President Bush liked Russert a great deal and spoke of him with deep emotion from Paris.
Tim Russert was a throw-back in a very profound sense. He cared deeply about politics and thus did not see it as a big game or a side-show. Tim once worked for the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan and understood the inside workings of Washington well. By this training he saw the importance of thinking deeply about policy, character and the important issues of governance.
Friends at NBC described Russert as tough, fair, gentle, kind, thoughtful and a compassionate listener. One said that he would often give them a great question to ask a political figure and when they used it, often to great effect, Tim never took credit but rejoiced in their success with true joy. Tim was also described a man who remembered people and always did the little things to say, “I care about you.” He celebrated life with his friends, spoke well of those who did not like him, and faithfully discharged the duties of his tasks with joy and humor.
In age of 24–7 cable political commentary, and very extreme partisanship, Tim Russert will be sorely missed. I learned a lot from him about dealing with issues and people in public settings. Tim was a life-long Catholic who took his faith seriously, at least from what I know about him. I pray today that he is at peace with his Lord and that God will comfort all who knew and loved him. I will miss him and was very saddened by his passing. Rarely am I saddened by such news like I was by the news of Tim Russert’s death at age 58.