Monday, June 23, 2008

Tim Russert, RIP

Timothy John Russert, Jr., as everyone knows by now, died of a heart attack, just over a week ago, on Friday, the 13th of June, at the age of 58. He has been in my thoughts quite a lot since then, and I thought I would take a moment, since I happen to have a little time this morning, and express my gratitude for the place he held in modern American life.

Tim leaves behind his wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1983. I don't know if Tim and Maureen planned their wedding to take place in such a momentous year, it being of course the great Luther year, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformer's birth. Perhaps just a coincidence. God gave Tim and Maureen a twenty five year marriage. It would be impossible to know all the ways in which God blessed them by this marriage, nor all the ways in which God blessed the world by their marriage. One way is the life He brought into the world through them, ie, their son Luke. More on him in a moment. I am amazed by the connection a wife instinctively feels with her spouse. They are more attuned to it than we men are. My wife claims sometimes to know that a phone ring is me calling. I cannot claim to know how she does it. But I believe sometimes these eery instincts just serve to point out the deep connection that a women senses, feels, appreciates in ways for which men are not wired. So I found it poignant and unsurprising to learn that when Tim left the hotel in Italy where they were vacationing (to celebrate Luke's graduation) to come back to Washington in order to tape his TV show, Maureen stopped him, to give him a hug. She said, "I want to give you a hug; maybe I'll never see you again." She later told a reporter, "I don't know why I said that to him. I just had a feeling."

He also leaves behind his 23 year old son, Luke. I know what it is like to lose a parent at a relatively young age. My mother died of cancer at the age of 57. So my prayer these days must include Luke Russert. Luke just celebrated his graduation from university, and he knows full well how proud of him his father was. I know that in part his life will be a testament to his father.
One of the reasons it is appropriate to pay due attention to the legacy of Tim's family is that family was a deeply important aspect of his life. The value he placed on family led to two books from his pen, Big Russ and Me, a tribute to his father, and Wisdom of Our Fathers, a book which puts together letters from sons and daughters to their fathers.
My knowledge of him is mostly from his role as a journalist. There are journalists who wear their political opinions quite openly on their sleeve. Indeed, it seems that in some cases a man's "journalism" is merely an occasion or forum for his political views. Tim Russert was different. He gave everyone a hard time. He worked hard, and did his homework, in order to prepare each week for the interview. And then, when the interview guest was before him, he did not waste time with a lot of Barbara Walters style questions, but went to the heart of the issues. He probed, and did not relent. For this he had my respect, appreciation, and loyalty.
At the same time, he was incapable of being rude, or obnoxious, or truly uncharitable. He was a man of real Christian faith. And it spilled forth in his personality. I loved his smile because it was so obviously unrehearsed. He was not the kind of man some would call extremely telegenic. That is not to say there was anything wrong with his looks. My point is that he was not the stereotypical TV anchor, born for the role. He was a journalist, who got a job with Meet the Press. And when he would look up at the camera, sometimes that smile of his would just make me smile, and almost laugh, because it is just such an embodiment of his sincere and loving personality.
I try not to inflict some of my personal, and unimportant, tastes on the general public. My closest friends, though, know that I am a "Springsteen tramp." (The second word of that phrase comes from his 1975 song, "Born to Run.") And I found a nice tribute Springsteen did for Tim Russert. So if any of you are able to endure a little Bruce Springsteen, I encourage you to watch these two pieces I found in the wonderful world of You Tube.
This first one begins with a word from Tom Brokaw, and this second one is a brief but thoughtful tribute from Bruce.


Anonymous said...

From what I have read I have no doubt Tim was a nice man. But the way NBC in particular and the national media in general has carried on about his passing is absurd. You would think a president or a movie star had died. Members of the redia report the story. They should be the story. Yes it was nice NBC devoted some time to Tim but it was just silly that literally ever night for a week there was a new story about another side of Tim we didn't know. HE WAS JUST A REPORTER FOLKS. THE WORLD WILL CONTINUE TO TURN.

Anonymous said...

Correction "Members of the media should report the story. They should NOT be the story."

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear anonymous,
If anyone can be sympathetic to a writer's desire for anonymity, it is an Albanian Lutheran with an Arabic name, whom well placed Lutherans publically malign and denounce as dangerous to the church, unLutheran, and a hyper-ritualizer. So, I can dig it. But I wish you would at least make up a clever nom de plume.

I actually have not seen all the coverage of which you are speaking. I will accept and grant your assessment. Today's media have been known for doing just this sort of making there own industry the story.

Nevertheless, my piece is not about that. Rather, it is a brief thought or two in apprciation of the life of Tim Russert. I am not the media. I am a private man, who likes to write when he has the time. So I write today about the Christian life he lived. Perhaps you could contribute a comment here on Russert, rather than on merely what his colleagues have done since his demise.