08/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cronkite's Legacy

It is so strange how life unfolds sometimes.

I was watching CNN just today, and I saw anchor Kyra Phillips leave her desk and wander back into what seemed like the bowels of the newsroom, camera trailing her, to meet a correspondent doing a piece on the unrest in Iran. They conversed face-to-face, with a couple of junior workers behind them, simultaneously sitting and chatting in front of their computer monitors as if totally oblivious that they were on television.

Then we shifted to the weather, and the weatherman was working furiously with his hands, doing the touch screen thing, and all these screens were coming up fast and furious, showing weather conditions in different parts of the country.

Throughout all this, I felt simultaneously transfixed and distracted.

And while on one level I had to marvel at all the innovation and technology on display, the old dinosaur who lives inside me had to say, "This all feels forced, like a gimmick."

And then to reinforce this sentiment, hours later I learn we've lost Walter Cronkite.

Cronkite needed no technology enhancements or new format ideas during his extended run as the CBS anchor. In fact, had such so-called enhancements been possible or practical, I think the majority of Americans would have rebelled.

All he ever required was a chair and desk, and a camera to shoot him straight on. What we expected and received every weekday night were his presence, his voice, his words. Combined they carried enormous weight and authority. This was a man you lived through, a man you trusted.

He projected the idealism of his generation, embracing the conviction advanced by his mentor Ed Murrow that television could be and should be much more than a vehicle for vacuous entertainment. This powerful and influential young medium could also educate and enlighten.

Walter Cronkite didn't just advocate for this idea; he put it into practice. You could always bet that any special news programming with his name affixed to it had to be must viewing.

He had at once an enormously keen intellect and the common touch. No one could doubt his humanity; indeed the American people fed on it. He was everybody's trusted uncle, father, or cousin. He was family.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking footage associated with President Kennedy's assassination was Cronkite losing his composure momentarily on-camera when first announcing the news. One truly felt he was crying for all of us.

By all accounts, he was as curious and forthright off-camera as on-. I remember seeing him at several New York events when he was well into his retirement, and he always seemed to be listening intently to the other person, reflecting not only his unwavering journalistic instinct, but also his endless fascination with people.

It is comforting to think how rich his life was, not only in achievement, but in love of family and friends.

Doubtless many distinguished figures who knew the man personally will speak more eloquently about him, peppering their tributes with revealing personal anecdotes. I don't mean to compete with that; in truth, I was just another viewer.

Still -- while I'm sorry I never actually met him, I can't help but feel I actually knew him very well. Perhaps that was his ultimate gift to us all.

And so, with the rest of the planet old enough to remember his legacy, I celebrate his life and mourn his passing.