Last Father's Day, my family gave me a copy of Tim Russert's book "Wisdom of our Fathers." The book, a sequel to his 2001 bestseller "Big Russ and Me," is an incredibly touching book, and it has a great story behind it. Russert's first book told about growing up in South Buffalo under the guiding hand of his father. One reviewer wrote, "Most adult men have a difficult time embracing their fathers. Russert spends 22 chapters hugging his in this book."
Almost as soon as "Big Russ and Me" hit the shelves, Russert began getting wonderful letters from people about the relationship they had with their fathers. Some were funny, some were heartbreaking. Some told of wonderfully close relationships, others told of waiting too late to make things right, and having to live with the regrets for the rest of their lives. Russert read them all, and realized this was a story that needed to be told. Out of those letters came "Wisdom of Our Fathers."
Tim Russert passed away suddenly yesterday while recording voice-overs for tomorrow's edition of Meet the Press, the iconic Sunday news show that he hosted for 17 years, longer than any other host in the history of the program. It is ironic, in an incredibly sad way that Tim Russert died two days before Father's Day, since he is known by millions for writing two bestselling books celebrating fathers and fatherhood.
Fatherhood wasn't something Russert wrote about in the abstract. He was a dedicated son to Big Russ who now survives him, but he was also a doting father to his son Luke, Tim and Maureen's only child. They say that off camera he was constantly talking about his family. Tim, Maureen and Luke just took a trip to Italy to celebrate Luke's graduation from Boston College. Maureen and Luke were still there when the news came that Tim had died.
On Meet the Press recently, Terry McAuliff - Hillary Clinton's resident lunatic - made a moronic remark about how Big Russ must be smiling down from heaven. Russert patiently informed McAuliff that Big Russ is still very much alive. Just last weekend, Russert was back in Buffalo to move big Russ into a home.
I had a chance to meet Russert once in the late 1980s, not long after he became NBC's Washington Bureau Chief. He and ABC's Jeff Greenfield were on a panel discussion. Both of them seemed to be regular guys who didn't take themselves too seriously, and they certainly weren't prima donnas like many in the news business were.
Tim Russert was, by all accounts, one of the genuinely good guys. He was secure in his own skin and comfortable with his abilities, so he was never threatened by someone else's advancement in the news business. His closest friends were his competitors, so when he passed yesterday, there were people on every network - cable and broadcast - who were choking back tears as they reported the news of Russert's passing. The list of people who got their start or their first job in broadcast journalism from Russert reads like a who's who of today's news reporters. As host of Meet the Press, he reached out beyond the circle of Beltway elites to bring in talented journalists to the weekly panel.
In a move that must have made blue bloods at the Washington Post gag, Russert added David Brody, senior correspondent for CBN news to the panel. Brody handled himself well and proved Russert's instincts right yet again. It's hard to imagine who will succeed Russert in the host's chair for Meet the Press.
Tim Russert was a giant in the field of broadcast journalism, yet he never allowed his success or his love of politics and the news business to overshadow his family or his faith. He never forgot who he was and where he came from. He was and always would be was the kid from South Buffalo, a diehard Bills fan, Maureen's devoted husband and Luke's doting dad. And Big Russ' loving and appreciative son.