Wednesday, June 18, 2008

At Russert's Sendoff, Amazing Grace

Five days later, it's still just too surreal: Tim Russert is gone... and for a good many among us, Sunday mornings and Election Nights will never be the same.

A full post on the beloved Meet the Press moderator -- who died suddenly at 58 on Friday -- will come in a bit. In the meantime, before both presidential candidates and a congregation of family, friends, "official Washington" and the nation's media elite, a sometime panelist at Tim's Table celebrated Russert's funeral this morning at DC's main Jesuit church:
"It is not easy to preach a homily for Tim and to communicate the feelings we all share concerning this remarkable man, for he was truly one of the great communicators in American society," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., said in his homily.

Russert, the host of the Sunday-morning talk show "Meet the Press," died Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. He also served as the Washington bureau chief for NBC News. A political insider, Russert was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington's most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue- collar, Buffalo, N.Y., roots.

Among the dignitaries were former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

There were also enough TV journalists and political strategists to fill several political roundtables. Among the honorary pallbearers were NBC News anchor Brian Williams, "Today" show host Matt Lauer and Bryant Gumbel. Retired anchor Tom Brokaw greeted the guests, saying no house meant more to Russert than "the house of the Lord."

The funeral service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown was private, but a loud speaker broadcast the service to about 100 onlookers standing along the tree-lined street. A man wearing a kilt played the bagpipes as the crowd arrived, and delivered a rendition of "Amazing Grace" as Russert's casket was taken from the church.

Russert's 22-year-old son, Luke, gave the eulogy. His mother and Russert's widow, Maureen Orth, looked on.

"My dad was my best friend," Luke Russert said, his voice strong and clear. "To explain my bond with my father is utterly impossible to put into words."

Luke Russert then gave what he described as his father's last speech.

He urged parents to hug their children, politicians to avoid "low tactics," and journalists to practice integrity and honesty.

Luke Russert said that whenever he did well on a school assignment, his father would yell, "Yahoo! You smoked 'em, buddy!"

He asked the crowd to imagine a special edition of "Meet the Press" this Sunday in heaven, perhaps with a debate between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, or John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater. He even suggested a talk on the need for a new political party involving Teddy Roosevelt, the former president who later ran unsuccessfully for president as a member of the Bull Moose party.

"Tim Russert led with his heart, his compassion and most of all his honor," his son said. "I love you, dad, and in his words, let us all go get 'em!"
SVILUPPO: More from CNS...
Though he lavished praise on Russert's work ethic, loyalty to his staff and colleagues, love for his family and enthusiasm for life, Cardinal McCarrick said it was the broadcaster's undying Catholic faith that most influenced his life.

"He truly knew the Good Shepherd and found strength in his protection and in his love," Cardinal McCarrick said. "The man of faith knows who his Redeemer is -- and so did Tim. And God always took care of him -- as we believe he took care of him last Friday when he reached out and called him home."...

Cardinal McCarrick told the congregation that though Russert was still young and energetic, he believes his longtime friend was ready to be called to God's kingdom, because in life he followed the lessons of the Gospel, "that we must always be ready," and "that we must always be generous."

"No matter how busy, no matter how harried, Tim never turned his back on a good cause," he said. "How many times have many of us asked him to lend his name, to give his time and to reach out in help to a worthy cause or a person in need. A list of his benefactions would be hard to compute, but it was always done with graciousness and generosity."

The tributes for Russert that have flooded the airwaves and print media since June 13 also speak volumes about the impact he had on his family, colleagues, viewers and listeners, Cardinal McCarrick said.

"It has been said in the valiant love and deep faith of his wife and son," he said. "All that remains is to say thank you to the good and gracious God who gave us Tim Russert for 58 years and to pray that the beloved anchor of 'Meet the Press' is now sitting at the large table of the Lord to begin a conversation which will last forever."
...and among the many causes he supported over the years, in 1997 Russert established an outstanding teacher award given every year by the archdiocese of Washington in gratitude to Sr Lucille Socciarelli -- the Buffalo Mercy nun who, as the award's description put it, "challenged him and convinced him that he could make a difference in the world."

Alongside Tom Brokaw, Maria Shriver, Brian Williams and others, Sr Lucille spoke at yesterday's public memorial at the Kennedy Center:

PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty/MTP