Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Beacon of Hope

In the summer of 1964 I took a road trip to New Orleans that shattered my idealistic views of the world around me.

I grew up in the northern Chicago suburb of Deerfield, a placid but growing commuter community. Little league baseball games, or the occasional weekend sock hop, provided most of the excitement for citizens of this upwardly mobile, white color community.
By all appearances Deerfield was a delightful and crime-free community with a "be good to your neighbor" mentality.

I bought my records at the Deerfield Record Shop, my hamburgers at Harry's Grill and my dad got gasoline at Midge's Texaco. Midge was an interesting character because he was loud, but not in an annoying way. He shouted at you as you arrived, he shouted at you as he filled your gas tank and he shouted at you as you drove away. Sometimes I could still hear him for a couple blocks. He didn't ever have anything important to say, he just liked to talk, and he spoke in volumes. Every one of his customers just went with the flow because Midge was a good guy.

I went to Deerfield's public schools and after school I spent an enormous amount of time playing baseball or touch football in a nearby school yard. We didn't have gangs, fights or violence. It seemed my friends and I were more focused on athletics than academics. But, despite our positive attitude and school spirit, we had trouble competing with the inner city schools.

In the August leading into my junior year of high school I passed my driver's test, a truly liberating event for any teenager. I had come of age. I was mature (I thought). I no longer needed any help from my parents. My mother let me drive her beautiful new Pontiac station wagon to and from school. I would drive by the school entrance every day before parking in the lot to make sure I was seen by all my peers. I was really cool.

But one rainy day Mr. Big Shot (me) pushed the gas pedal to the floor as I turned to the left exiting the school onto the main road. The rear of the station wagon swerved to the far right, then back again to the left. I slammed the brake petal as hard as I could and the car plowed into a ditch. I was not hurt but I was stunned. The damage was minimal but the lesson was great.

The following summer I managed to convince may parents to allow me to drive their station wagon from Deerfield to New Orleans with my close friend Jim. My father was from New Orleans and I had visited family several times there in my early childhood. I had very fond memories of the city.

We hopped on Highway 41 in Chicago and headed south through the farmland and rolling hills of western Indiana. Our first stop was in Evansville, which straddled the Mississippi River that provided the snaky border between Indiana and Kentucky. My Uncle moved from New Orleans to this river town after World War II and started his own construction company and family. One memorable but noisy highlight of our brief visit was when we purchased hundreds of firecrackers in Kentucky, where they were legal, and set them off near my Uncle's home. My young cousins were very impressed.

The next day we took to the road again, alternating turns at the wheel as we drove through Kentucky and the Tennessee toward Mississippi. It was very hot so we kept the windows of our station wide open. Route 41 was dotted with barns and silos, many bearing signs for chewing tobacco or cigarettes. We passed through a stream of small towns, some barely more than a wide spot in the road with a stop light. When we would occasionally stop for food and gas folks
were generally indifferent. But I noticed the pace of life was slow, the people were lethargic and most of the communities were very poor.

Along the way I began to notice a profound physical as well as economic separation between blacks and whites. I saw two separate societies living side by side with very little in common. While I was aware of the nascent but growing civil rights movement, this separation was particularly striking because I was being raised in an all white Chicago suburb.

Somewhere near the Mississippi border we jumped over to Route 45 and drove south through Corinth, Tupelo and on to Meridian. As we pulled into the gas station we figured we were a tank of gas and a few hours from New Orleans. It wasn't too long before a state policeman pulled up next to our car. He got out of his squad car and slowly ambled on over toward us.

"Where you boys headed?" he asked in a not so friendly tone. He was very big and very intimidating. He had a pistol, a badge and he was wearing pair of very large Rayban sunglasses.

"New Orleans," I remember saying, "to visit my family."

"Well you boys best get fueled up and get straight out of town," he impatiently warned.

"Yes sir." There was no argument from either of us.

As we headed down U.S. Highway 11 toward New Orleans, we talked about the gas station encounter. We concluded that the policeman had mistaken us for student demonstrators who had come from up north to protest for the rights of blacks. It was an unsettling encounter for both of us.

We arrived later that day at my aunt's New Orleans home. We unpacked and went out for a wonderful dinner of boiled crabs, jambalaya and gumbo. We later walked along tree lined St. Charles Avenue, under the Spanish moss, and hopped on the trolley.

The next morning we teed off at the City Park Golf Course. The weather was already unbearable. Summer in New Orleans combines intense heat from the sun with heavy humidity. The conditions can be especially perilous in the afternoon. But on this morning in August I already found myself soaked and thirsty after just two holes. I went over to a nearby shelter and drank from a water fountain. The fountain was disgustingly dirty and the water was warm. I continued on with my game but neither of us was having much fun.

We passed near the same shelter on the ninth hole. This time I noticed an electric fountain. As I walked up to get a drink I spotted a sign on the wall. "WHITES ONLY," it boldly read. I walked around to the other side and above the fountain I had earlier used a sign read, "COLORED." I was stunned for a moment. I then went back and took a long cool drink from the electric fountain. I expressed amazement to Jim and we both just shook it off.

We called it quits after 9 holes and went back to my aunt's house. Later that day, as dinner was being served, I told her what had happened.

"You drank from a colored fountain!" she responded firmly.

"Yes, and it was filthy," I said.

"You should never do that," she admonished me, "you can get sick."

She explained why there were two fountains. She announced that "the colored" knew there place. She said most were good people but some carried diseases and others were criminals. We had to be careful. Besides, she observed, this is the way life has been in the south forever. Then she pointed out that "Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country." She noted that whites live along scenic Lake Michigan while most of the blacks live in housing projects in the inner city.

I had a hard time accepting her comments and pushed back. But it was clear that she was not happy. And I realized she was correct in her observations about segregation and Chicago.

We never discussed the incident again, avoiding the subject for the remainder of our visit. But as I visited the French Quarter, the Garden District and other sites, I saw other "WHITES ONLY" signs. I also saw that blacks were barred from many restaurants and clubs. New Orleans was a two class society.

When we returned to Deerfield, I clearly recognized I lived in a homogeneous society sheltered from racial divisions. I had failed to pay sufficient attention to how our communities, our cities and our country were divided along racial and economic lines. Millions of Americans who dreamed could not fulfill their hopes because of pervasive prejudice and discrimination. The words of Emma Lazarus were not reality: "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

The trip to New Orleans in 1964 made me a better person. Sadly much blood would be spilled over the next decade in an effort to put in place the legal framework necessary to eliminate most racial barriers. This nation has since made major strides to achieve racial equality as well as gender equality.

Not all the wounds are healed, and racial discrimination is not fully eradicated. But today, forty-four years after my trip to New Orleans, most anyone can fulfill their dreams. Today America lifts its lamp for all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Streets of New York

There are few things more interesting and exhilarating than a walk through the neighborhoods of New York City.

At one moment you may find yourself in Little Italy and a few steps later you are in Chinatown. There are many such communities throughout the city teeming with activity and life, each possessing its own unique culture, stores, shops, restaurants and aromas. They exist in Manhattan, as well as in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

And while this time of year is particularly wonderful because of the beautiful trees and colorful flowers on display, nothing beats people watching. Granted, most often you only have time for a brief glimpse, but the diversity of people and the variety of styles can make any walk a fascinating experience. But, as an avid walker, I have a few observations.

It seems that the sidewalks are more crowded lately, bustling with businessmen, baby carriages, students and laborers. Maybe the recent increase in gasoline prices is beginning to hit close to home. And it appears there are more tourists out pounding the pavement and taking in the sites. I often see tourists huddled near a corner pouring over a city map. As I pass by, I frequently hear some discussion in a foreign language. It is most reassuring that most New Yorkers will stop and try to help if asked.

New York City is in the midst of a building boom. There is scaffolding, heavy equipment and big cranes on every other block. I have noticed that more people are looking up before they walk under one of these structures. My guess is the recent spate of accidents has increased general awareness of potential accidents.

Walking can be frustrating at times. People weave in and out of crowds, sometimes darting sharply to the side, or they suddenly stop dead in their tracks. Some are talking on a cell phone or thumbing the keyboard of a Blackberry, oblivious to life around them. Adding to the problem is the proliferation of bikes, scooters, prams and luggage carts. And there are the food and ice cream stands that pop up every day. Averting a collision can be a real problem, consequently you must always be on your toes.

Street lights are timed for vehicle traffic. It is very difficult to walk more than a couple blocks without being stopped by a red light. This is as true between avenues, a distance of two blocks, as it is between streets. As a result, people bunch up at intersections, with some folks edging into the street to get ahead of the crowd. Some courageous souls look for a break in the traffic and then sprint to the other side. A few just walk in front of oncoming traffic, as if they are protected by some invisible wall. It's a miracle more people aren't injured.

There seems to have been an increase in the dog population as well. Owners walk their dogs with great pride. Unfortunately, a few fail to clean up after their dogs. It seems that about once or twice a week I am cleaning up dog droppings out in front of my brownstone. I once caught someone seconds after the act. Without missing a beat I asked for his address and apartment number so my dog could return the favor. He walked off and I was left holding the "doggie bag." So periodically keep a keen eye focused on the pavement in order to avoid the occasional land mine.

Now I really feel sorry for smokers. Rain, snow or shine they clog the sidewalks outside office buildings puffing on their cigarettes. The problem is that clouds of smoke form around doorways, and smoke can be sucked into the lobby. I hate breathing second hand smoke because I lost a mother and several friends to lung cancer. On the other hand, I know the smokers are really addicted. But I wonder how much otherwise productive work time is interrupted by smoking breaks outdoors? How much time, on an annual basis, literally goes up in smoke?

I also feel sorry for the panhandlers I encounter from time to time. There is one, in particular, who periodically shows up on nearby Madison Avenue and somehow knows my first name. At first it was pretty unsettling to hear a homeless person shout my name out from across the street. But it turns out he has been so successful sponging money from many of my neighbors that we now joke he has a place in the Hamptons.

All and all, in spite of the minor inconveniences, the blaring fire sirens, the jackhammers and the detour signs, I can't think of a place I would rather live. New York is a vigorous and vibrant city that always has me walking tall.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting Squamous

Well the chickens have come home to roost.

I grew up during the fifties and sixties in the Chicago suburbs. I spent most of my childhood outdoors playing baseball, basketball or just hanging out at the beach. For several years I caddied at the local golf course, sometimes putting in two rounds a day. In spite of my mother's warnings I never used skin block. I didn't like the feel of oily lotion on my skin.

To be fair, information about the long term effects of excessive sun exposure was not prevalent in those days. We were much more aware and threatened by nuclear war and polio. I remember
school wide practice drills to prepare us for a possible nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. We would hide under our desks or be herded down to the bomb shelter. I also remember the first time polio vaccines were issued in school. This was a truly virulent and devastating disease that struck people of all ages. In fact, at the time the vaccine was so new that it was still being tested. Many students in my school received a placebo.

The sun was our friend. It brought spring to life. It embraced us. Its warmth was an especially comforting and welcome relief for those of us living in Chicago. More daylight meant more time to play. And, even more importantly, it was fashionable to have a deep tan. I also had a mild case of psoriasis which spread over more of my body as I grew older. I found that the sun, and its UV rays, provided a short term cure for my discomfort.

It wasn't until many years later that I came to understand excessive sun exposure has an insidious affect on the skin. In fact, it may be twenty years before the damage manifests itself.

A couple of years ago I became aware of a small red spot on my chest that would not heal. I went to a dermatologist who performed a biopsy. A couple days later he informed that I had a basal cell carcinoma. I had a mild form of cancer. He removed it the next day. But since, I have had three basal cell carcinomas removed, and, most recently, a squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell cancers are more invasive and the procedure left me with several stitches on my forehead. I will have a small scar in its place.

There may be some question as to whether sun lotion can prevent skin damage. There is also some debate over whether the effects of global warming has made the sun more powerful. But there is no dispute that moderate sun exposure will reduce the chances of skin cancer. This means limiting one's time outdoors, or, at least, covering up.

We baby boomers are hitting 60. And now skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer today. Thankfully it is treatable, especially if detected early. So, no matter your age, get a regular check up.

Take it from me. I'm the guy standing in the shade wearing a hat.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Can I Believe?

We are already half way through June and I can't help myself. I am hopeless.

It is an immutable fact that I am incapable of changing. Yet I have been burned so many times before!
It is not a matter of the glass being half full or half empty. It seems that the glass just always ends up empty.

Oh, how I have been hurt in the past. All too often I can remember feeling a pain that was so wrenching and so beastly that all I could do was writhe and whimper in my chair. It usually happened in August or September. I had committed a transgression that far exceeded those of Adam and Eve, Judas or Bill Buckner. I started to believe. And I would pay.

It can happen so easily. You tell yourself, "just once." Yes, I'd convince myself I could actually enjoy one and not become hooked. It seems so innocent. Why not enjoy it? I deserve a little relief from the daily wear and tear of life, work or whatever. But inevitably one would lead to more, and more, and more. It would become a crazy and all consuming addiction. It would always lead to a period of deep depression and sadness.

But I am not the only one. Yes there are millions of people doing it right now. They are from every part of the country and every possible demographic, income level, religion and social strata. There is a great and growing reason for it, and you can find it almost anywhere in the country.

And it is so easy to do. It starts with just a little peek (it is best if you feign interest). Then your involvement quickly grows and grows. And it has happened practically every year since I was born.

My most vivid memory was a feeling of great hope and exceptional excitement; a high of all highs, like walking on air. Then a black cat imposed a curse that brought everything crashing to the ground. It is bad enough that we were already under the eternal curse of a goat! Yet another time fate was decided by an inexplicable error which turned ecstasy into profound disappointment. Then another time a bystander reached out and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. My heart still burns.

Will this be the year? Will history be made? Will the curse end?

Let's see, today is only June and I am already hooked.

Go Cubs, go!

Oh darn.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Get Smart

For those of you with any doubt, being nice to others can be a wonderful and rewarding act. Here's a small example.

This year my family spent spring break in Santa Monica, California, to celebrate our daughter's twelfth birthday. To make the trip extra special we allowed our daughter, Zoe, to bring along her "friend for life," Georgina. Now these girls are at an interesting age because at times they act like, well, little girls, and at other times they display the fashion sense of a young Giselle Bundchen. Consequently, their hotel bed was lined with Webkins' dolls of all shapes and sizes, while lipstick, mascara and a hair curling iron were neatly stored on the bathroom counter.

It was my daughter's greatest wish to meet a movie star on this trip. In order to optimize her chances, my wife, Susan, and I arranged a very ambitious schedule including studio tours and great seats at a live broadcast of American Idol.

March 17 was Zoe's birthday. So that evening we dined at Ivy on the Shore, in Santa Monica. Zoe and Georgina had spent considerable time preparing themselves for their dinner appearance. Quite frankly, they were both cute as a button. Let me rephrase that, they were both fashionably glamorous.

Our table was adjacent to the front window and provided us a view of the Pacific Ocean. While the girls were busy dueling on their Gameboys, and Susan perused the menu, I intensely scanned the restaurant for stars. I was not hopeful given we were dining at a relatively early hour on a weeknight.

Before long, the heavens opened up and the crowd cleared. Bingo! The Rock came into view and fortuitously he was headed our way. I quietly alerted the girls. Zoe responded "Dwayne Johnson?" I nodded in confirmation. Suddenly two heads swiveled and their four little eyes popped as Dwayne edged by our table.

As fate would have it, he paused at our table long enough for me to take immediate action. "These two girls are your biggest fans!" I blurted out to the six foot four inch man standing next to me. Dwayne looked down and I instinctively pointed to the two beauties seated across from me. "And it's her birthday," I said.

Without missing a beat Dwayne's eyes lit up and he said, "how are you girls, and happy birthday!"

Zoe and Georgina were stunned and their faces were frozen in amazement. The encounter lasted only a few seconds, but my daughter's greatest wish was fulfilled. I was a very happy dad.

Our dinner was delightful. The girls feasted elegantly on goat cheese salads and lamb chops. Of course, they continued their Gameboy duels in between courses. A delightful chocolate birthday cake with a single candle capped off our dinner.

As we prepared to leave, Zoe asked if she and Georgina could go over and thank Dwayne. We consented and headed out while the girls paid their final respects.

The girls were smiling and laughing as they caught up with us a moment later. "What happened, what did you say?" I asked.

"Thank you Mr. Rock for wishing me a happy birthday," Zoe said. "He shook my hand and wished me a happy birthday again!" she effused. Zoe then waved her right hand in the air and said, "I am never going to wash this hand again!"

Two little girls, two young ladies, two friends for life, together shared an experience that they will never ever forget because a man, a movie star, was nice.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is starring in the movie "Get Smart" which was released this week. We all think he's pretty darn special.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Broadcast News at 20

In July 1984, Democrats convened in San Francisco for what they hoped would be an historic convention that would impel them on to the White House. I had a front row seat working as the “podium producer” for CBS News with correspondent Bruce Morton. Dan Rather anchored our coverage from a three-story booth located across the floor. The air was electric when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated as the party’s vice presidential candidate, the highest position in government for which a woman had been nominated.

On the Friday morning following the convention I awakened in my Fairmont Hotel Suite truly inspired. I rolled over to face the woman I loved, and had been living with for five years, and I proposed we elope that afternoon in San Francisco. Susan Zirinsky immediately accepted and I called City Hall.

Susan had worked the convention as Ed Bradley’s floor producer. At five feet tall she was called “Tiny Z” by most of her colleagues but was respected as a formidable dynamo. CBS News allowed us to work together as producers in the Washington bureau, in fact at the time I was her boss, and they assigned us to the same hotel room when we traveled together on assignments.

Susan and I arrived at City Hall early in the afternoon and grabbed a couple of seats in the bustling and crowded courtroom. Love was in the air. When our names were called we stepped forward to the judge’s bench, and were married in about the same amount of time as an average evening news report. We raced out of the courthouse and posed for our “official” wedding picture with the words “City Hall” framed behind us on the door.

In the cab back to the hotel Susan suddenly remembered that she had an appointment in an hour with a Hollywood producer named James L. Brooks. She really didn’t know much about him other than he was a successful producer researching a movie about women in television.

We called our parents from the hotel, then Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite and a few other close friends. Soon the champagne and caviar arrived, but Susan was off to her appointment.

Susan met Jim in the hotel lobby and they went to a quiet place nearby where they sat and talked. At the outset Susan said, “If I really like you I will tell you something interesting that happened to me today.” The conversation then progressed for a couple hours when, finally, Susan blurted out, “And so I got married today.”

Excitedly Jim asked, “Wow, when? Where’s your husband?”

“If I know him he is back at the hotel taking a nap,” she said.

I remember stepping off the hotel elevator and into the enthusiastic embrace of a bearded stranger who was acting as if he had won the mega-lottery. “Wow, great to meet you!” he said, “Wow this is so great!” “Wow!” So, on that sunny July 20 in San Francisco, Susan and I began a remarkable and amazing friendship as well as our marriage. 

As part of his extensive research for “Broadcast News,” Jim visited newsrooms, he went to black-tie galas and he attended White House briefings. But Jim’s roots were at CBS News, where he began in 1964 as a writer. Later Jim jumped into programming at ABC. Then in 1970 he went to work for Grant Tinker as the creator and producer of the brilliant Mary Tyler Moore Show. This was the first time in network television a leading character had been an independent career woman.

Meanwhile, CBS News had begun hiring women as reporters in the Washington bureau. Marya McLaughlin, Lesley Stahl, Connie Chung and Diane Sawyer were all learning while working in support of Dan Rather, Roger Mudd, Daniel Shorr and the Kalb brothers. They held microphones and asked questions for the star reporters; if they were lucky the back of their head would appear on-air. Slowly and begrudgingly women began getting more airtime and recognition.

In the early 1980’s the network news organizations began feeling financial pressure. The owners were debating whether news should be a public service or a profit center. By 1984 CBS News had its first round of cuts, as did the other networks. 

Jim Brooks was very aware of these trends when he began doing his research for the movie. He dug deeply into the personalities, their eccentricities and the operations and its unique lingo. His script was brilliantly authentic, insightful, revealing and very funny.

The story revolves around three main characters. Jane Craig, a very talented and driven news producer, becomes attracted to reporter Tom Grunick, whose superficiality epitomizes everything she hates about the business. Meanwhile her best friend, Aaron Altman, a gifted reporter with limited on-camera skills, is bitter about her rejection of him. “Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?” Aaron observes in the movie. 

As casting began, CBS News allowed Susan to sign on as a technical adviser, and I played a smaller supporting role. Bill Hurt was selected for the role of Tom Grunick and Albert Brooks was picked to portray Aaron Altman. But Jane Craig would prove a challenge. At the eleventh hour Susan traveled up to New York to meet the woman finally selected to be Jane: Holly Hunter. She was a powerful and intense beauty whose strong spirit and passion earned her the role. Most people seeing Susan and Holly together noticed they were about the same size and similar in appearance.

Actors and producers began assembling in Washington and making regular research visits to the CBS News Washington bureau. They practiced their roles in a private production studio next door. And nothing was more anticipated than the day Jack Nicholson came in to film his cameo role as network anchorman Bill Rorich. “This is a brutal layoff,” Rorich quipped, “and all because they couldn’t program Wednesday nights.”

“Broadcast News” was released in mid December 1984 to critical praise as a satire on journalism’s egos and a real life tribute to the urgency, immediacy and complexity of television news. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards but took home none.

Twenty years ago Jim Brooks brilliantly and humorously threw a spotlight on important questions roiling network newsrooms. Today the real broadcast news plays an ever-diminishing roll in American lives. “Mass media” is massively eroding, audiences are being sliced into niches and profit margins continue to cut into important news coverage. Broadcast news executives are scrambling to hang on while diverting resources and attention to other platforms, like the Web or mobile devices.

These technology driven changes mean speedier access to content, information and production tools. Change is good as long as it is done responsibly. Quality journalism strengthens democracy and must trump egos, personalities and profit margins, no matter the medium, if the mass is to be well served.

A lot has changed in 20 years; or has it? In Aaron Altman’s words, “Let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The End of a Generation

On Wednesday, Edgar Ursin Peyronnin died at the age of 91 near Los Angeles, California. His death marks the end of a generation.

Joseph Felix Peyronnin and his wife Dabie, my grandfather and grandmother, lived in New Orleans and had seven children; three boys and four girls. Mary, Clare, Elma, Joseph, Leo, Edgar and Nona were all very special! Grandfather Peyronnin, who was an attorney, died suddenly in the early 1920s. The family had to give up their nice house for a succession of smaller homes, including one of those very narrow "shotgun" houses.

Grandmother raised the children by herself and most of them had to do some work to help pay the bills. I remember my father telling me that he began working when he was 11 years old. As the country slipped into a recession life became more difficult. The eldest daughter, Mary, took on a larger role managing her siblings and working. Both my dad and Uncle Leo worked on the construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River close to New Orleans, and was opened in 1935.

Over time the children went their separate ways. Two sisters remained in New Orleans; Clare married Roland Brierre and Nona, a career teacher, never married. Mary moved with her husband David Barrow to the Chicago area; and after World War II my dad settled there as well with his new wife Dorothy. Elma and her husband moved to Louisville. Leo and his wife Charlotte settled in Evansville where he began the Peyronnin Construction company. And Edgar ended up in the Los Angeles area, where he lived with his family for more than 50 years. His second wife and he raised two beautiful girls in their beloved Ojai.

Over the years I visited my aunts and uncles and noticed striking physical similarities and personal traits. These traits included: intelligence, great inner strength, integrity, a tremendous work ethic, extreme stubbornness and the need for control. They were doers, achievers and builders. If they set their sites on something they made it happen.

Uncle Edgar's death has caused me to reflect on his generation. These survivors of personal tragedy, the Great Depression and World War II. Each of them had to overcome many obstacles in their life. They scraped, sacrificed and shouldered a lot of responsibility as they were robbed of their childhood, forced by tragedy to grow up young. Yet they were energetic, for the most part optimistic and very positive about each day.

Edgar's death closes a chapter for me. But while we will never see a generation like this one again, we can carry their spirit with us every day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Russert

I was CBS News Washington bureau chief in 1988 when Tim Russert was appointed to the same position at NBC News. Soon I was promoted by CBS News and assigned to New York. I actually met Tim at a Sally Quinn/Ben Bradlee party in their Georgetown mansion. She said she was celebrating my promotion to New York and Tim's move to Washington. I offered to help Tim out when appropriate, considering I was at another network. I remember that twinkle in his eyes; his passion and enthusiasm for Washington and politics. His whole being lit up. He was in heaven.

A year or so later, I remember hearing Tim would take over as anchor of Meet The Press. Some in the industry were critical of the appointment by then NBC News President Michael Gartner, after all Tim had never anchored before. But Gartner had experienced first hand Tim's passion and enthusiasm, and recognized his great intelligence and work ethic.

Tim willed Meet The Press to become the most prominent and important venue for serious national dialog. He out booked, out thought, out analyzed, out prepared, out promoted and out hustled the competition. And he had great fun doing it! In Virgil's words, "fortune rewards the bold."

Tim was a wonderful husband, father and friend to all. He was a man of great faith and integrity. Tim never forgot where he came from and he lived every second of his life with boundless passion and enthusiasm.

Edward R. Murrow was an historic and transcendent figure in broadcast journalism. Fifty years later, Tim Russert is also such an historic and transcendent figure for journalism. Murrow inspired me to enter my profession, Tim inspired me to excel each and every day.

Now he is in heaven, but I have no doubt that his legacy will have an enduring impact well into the 21st century.

PS: As a practicing Catholic, I lit a candle in Tim's memory at mass this past Sunday. But at some point I couldn't help but think about what impact Tim could have in heaven. I imagined he could fill in from time to time for St. Peter? Think about that!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In The Beginning

I have decided to enter my opinions to the countless millions already on blogs each day around the world. Stay tuned!

I will write something that is on my mind.  It may be timely, it may be important, but it is more likely to be personal and parochial.  It may be funny, it may be profound, but I promise it will always be something that is meaningful to me.

That's why I call the blog "joepeyronnin."