I worked at NBC News, at the TODAY SHOW for nine years, and for much of that time, I was lucky enough to work with Tim Russert. The picture on the left was one of the few I could find that showed that great, mischievous expression that meant we were going to have fun so even if it's not a DC kind of photo, it's the one I like best.
I first met Tim when he still worked with Mario Cuomo., on the Democratic Convention floor in 1984 when Cuomo electrified the crowd and I chased Tim, whom I'd never met, half way out to the parking lot to get a promise that the Governor would be on the show the next day. He was psyched, hyped and way too busy but he was also adorable and very sweet as we worked to get things organized.
So when he came to NBC and went to work on getting the Vatican to let us come and do a week of shows in Rome, including time with the Pope, I watched Tim play it out. He worked with Cardinal Kroll in Philadelphia and with one of his colleagues who worked in the Vatican and somehow we got our on-the-air mass with Pope John Paul II and a Philadelphia Catholic school boys choir sang on the TODAY SHOW. Who but Tim would have made that happen?
There's not much I can say that hasn't been said; I couldn't write sooner because my kids were visiting for the weekend and I wasn't being very bloggy. But as the news broke, my younger son called from the airport. He was really sad. I'd forgotten how lovely Tim was to Dan, who was around 6 when they met. Treated him like a cool guy, gave him an NBC baseball cap that I think he still has, teased him guy to guy. When I went over to deliver our bassinet after Luke arrived Dan came along and this new daddy still had time for a bit of a conversation with a six year old. AND to show us a tape of Willard Scott announcing Luke's birth on the show.
All week people have been talking about Tim's love of politics. That was true; and he mined every subtle message and decision for meaning and impact. But he had another quality that was even more valuable in a journalist: a contagious enthusiasm for living that made each story part of a grand adventure. He brought everyone in his orbit along with him -- sharing energy and laughter, competition that was fierce but never mean and a real belief in both the fun and the importance of journalism in a democracy.
I moved to LA and we mostly lost touch - although he did send a Meet the Press baseball cap in response to a note I sent him. It made me feel remembered - as it was meant to. It was the kind of gesture that's been in the stories people have been telling all week -- it's just that this one's mine. And since I'm not one of the rock stars who have been telling these stories all week, just someone he worked with, I'm hoping it will demonstrate the genuine niceness of this guy. Really.
There's a wake tomorrow and I'm going to try to go. I'm betting that there will be a mob scene there but I'd just like to show respect for a moment or two. I've seen so many of us writing about this very sad thing; I'll say a bit of a goodbye for all of us.