This loss is like implausible physics or maybe someone lying to us since Tim Russert was so full of life. On some level, I think we really do expect him to be back next Sunday morning. He was not my personal friend, but I feel like he could have been with any of us. As a kid, he might have been our close pal who lived in the two-family house around the block. We might have attended the same Catholic schools, complete with a Jesuit education and a devoted nun who had our backs. We might have talked sports knowing he'd kick our butts when it came to stats, and he would have out-pranked us the minute we gave him an opening. But being a loyal friend, he would have raised ours and our family's morale during times of trouble, something he actually did for this country on a weekly basis.
But even with no personal connection, he still made us excel at what we did because he was one of the world's best mentors, leading by example. It didn't matter where in the political spectrum we placed ourselves, during Meet The Press or practically every NBC-affiliated broadcast involving politics, there was Tim Russert, our first and last voice of reason and authority on most subjects. It absolutely was Florida, Florida, Florida. It absolutely was about economics, David Duke. It absolutely was about sending heart-felt prayers to the firemen of 9/11.
Embracing civility and the truth, he was a terrific role model whether in front of or away from the camera. Apparently, he also was the ultimate coach -- ask anyone who worked under or interned for him about his ability to uplift and promote. And having virtually anything in the universe to write about, he chose the bond between fathers and sons, his love for his family as his template. How do you top that?
Maybe this is how. Every Sunday on Meet The Press, through his substantive interviews and good-hearted approach, the country watched its political caretakers either excel or be put on the spot, but not in the screamy, mean-spirited way that, sadly, is now the norm. This was about news and issues and depth involving national concerns, our needing to prioritize them as importantly as buying groceries or paying the rent. Not necessarily when you stepped onto the set, but definitely, by the time you left, you were a grown-up, regardless of how well you did. And it was obvious that he wanted you to do well! His audience absorbed that subtle rite of passage, consciously retaining more information than when they first tuned-in, unconsciously leaving a bit more mature. Yet we also liked hangin' with him because he was such a big kid! Subjected to his barrage of Buffalo shoutouts was like sharing that terrible, endless, yet for whatever reason, hysterical inside joke with an old friend.
This weekend, through all the NBC tributes, I discovered much more about my hero such as how he took enormous pride in a Russert meeting a president; how his joy was off the charts when it came to his son and wife. I also learned about his friendship with Bruce Springsteen which made total sense, these two blue collar icons sharing a genuine love of people. And I was in tears when it was revealed that, upon hearing his friend was gone, The Boss dedicated "Thunder Road" to him at that night's concert. Questioning my other hero's judgment just a little, I couldn't help but think that a better dedication might have been "My Hometown." How cool would that have been! Yet another nod to Buffalo...