June 16th, 2008
12:55 PM ET

Tim Russert: A "Splendid Torch"

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/16/art.russert.jpg]

David Gergen
CNN Sr. Political Analyst
Fmr. Presidential Adviser

Since the news reached us on Friday afternoon, many Americans have experienced an extraordinary sense of grief about the death of Tim Russert. One hears it not only on television but in personal conversations with people all over the country. A friend in Hawaii sent a note to his three sons on Saturday, asking them to watch "Meet the Press" the next morning so that they could talk together about the meaning of father-son relationships on Father's Day. A friend in North Carolina said he was glued to his television. A friend in Massachusetts said she had not felt so much anguish since the death of John F. Kennedy.

Clearly, some of the grieving comes because he seemed so vital and young, heightening the sense that he left us far ahead of his time. Some of it comes because we are now hearing stories from an army of close friends that he maintained and how much he cared for them - he was a sweet as well as passionate man. NBC, to its credit, has revealed to us just how much he meant to his colleagues, not only there but in every corner of journalism and politics. We are learning, too, of how fine a chief he was to his Washington bureau - he may be as irreplaceable there as on the air. As Andrea Mitchell of NBC said right off, he set the gold standard in journalism.

But the depth of the grieving among the public suggests that he touched something deeper in the country.
I have been pondering what that may be and would welcome your comments. It's pretty clear that he was beloved by viewers because he had become such a friend - almost a neighbor - in their lives. Not everyone revered him for his on-air presence - some of Hillary Clinton's supporters thought he had a negative edge toward her in the closing weeks of the primaries, and a few Republicans have complained about bias - but overall, he struck people as tough but extremely fair toward everyone in politics. Yet, as I have talked with people, I sense that their ties to him went even deeper than that: he was, as one told me, one of the few journalists you could look to in recent years who had a passion for helping the country understand larger truths. "We have seen the death of truth in too many places," this friend said. "True to his roots and to Big Russ, Tim was the soul of integrity and truth-telling."

Just so.

In reading a book by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus this weekend, I came across a quote that captures for me a sense of Tim Russert's approach to life. These are the words from a character in a George Bernard Shaw play:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one... the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoin in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

George Bernard Shaw
Man and Superman,
(Baltimore, Penguin, 1973), pg. 84

Filed under: David Gergen • Tim Russert
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Sharon Rowe

    Everyone says that Tim left us way too soon at too young an age, but did anyone investiage if NBC really gave Tim his best chance for survival. This chance would have been to have the very now inexpensive ($1500) AED (Automatic External Defibrillators) in their studios just as many companies, airports, schools etc now have them available for just such an emergency. While Tim's collegues did CPR' defibrillation needed to happen within the first four mintues of cardiac arrest. InTim's case he had to wait for the paramedics and it was too long. While they were able to restart his heart a couple of different times, they could not sustain a pulse due to the long down time. Tim could now be recooperating in the hospital instead of having his funeral today. Another question?? Does CNN have a defibrillator in their studios?

    June 17, 2008 at 9:20 am |
  2. Joyce-Houston

    Tim Russert will be sadly missed, he was a caring and compassionate person.
    He was very honest and he never backed down from the truth.

    June 17, 2008 at 8:52 am |
  3. EJ (USA)

    Tom Brokaw had the best quote when he announced Tim’s death – “He will be missed as he was loved – greatly.”

    Brokaw is another amazing guy. I was glad to hear him tear up on Sunday. I was waiting for it because he was one of Tim's best friends and I know he wanted to cry. I also have to add that Tom, at 68, is quite handsome.

    June 17, 2008 at 12:16 am |
  4. Ken in NC

    David, that is a most fitting tribute to Tim Russert you have written and I thought to myself about my blog in Anderson 360 Friday night. I have copied it to this site for all to read as I can think of only 2 other times I shed tears for one other than my own family menbers and they were JFK & MLK.

    Thanks for the tribute to TIM.

    Ken in NC June 13th, 2008 10:58 pm ET
    Campbell, it’s kind of funny in a sad way. Tim gave you your break and now you are demonstrating your strengths and abilities he saw in you tonight on the show while I am sitting in my home with tears in my eyes and thinking of how I have only had tears like this for two others. They were President Kennedy and Rev Martin Luther King Jr.

    June 16, 2008 at 11:37 pm |
  5. Cynthia

    David, I have watched Meet the Press for a number of years and always found Tim to be tough but fair. He always seemed to know the answer to the question and had his follow up question ready. His little white board that he used to write in the states and numbers needed – I always looked forward to watching him come up with the answers. The interview with his son on the Today show was great and shows what a good father and son that he was. He seemed especially excited about this election – I bet he went to heaven knowing who our next President will be.

    June 16, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  6. Mary

    Tim Russert was a great man. I was stunned when I heard of his passing. I will miss him, but he and his wife have a wonderful son in Luke. I know why Tim was so proud of Luke after watching him this morning. Luke did his father proud today. Tim will be with us as we watch Luke take his place in leadership over the years to come. God bless the Russert family. The world love Tim also.

    June 16, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  7. Anita

    To Jay in Sacremento. Why are you even here on this blog site? Move on to something else yourself and leave the rest of us who have some feeling for a nice man alone. You don't have to like anyone, but keep it to yourself.

    June 16, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  8. Kathy, Andover

    In a certain sense, watching Tim Russert on 'Meet the Press' kept my Dad alive (he died in 2000) He loved 'Meet the Press' . . . I watched it more often, because I would think of my Dad. Sometimes he would get a chuckle out of how Tim Russert handled those politicians! lol I also watched "Tim Russert" (the show) I can't imagine anyone taking his place.

    I'm not for sure this information is accurate, but I read that you can watch a public memorial on Wednesday on MSNBC @ 4pm.

    June 16, 2008 at 10:04 pm |
  9. Susan


    I was on my way home from vacation last Friday night when I first heard the news of the passing of Tim Russert. My first thought was a true saddness and how my Sunday morning was never going to be the same again. My second thought was of how selfish my first thought had been.

    Tim Russert is a rare gem in the halls of journalism these days. He always treated his guests with respect and dignity. He asked no more of those that he interviewed then he asked of himself. It always ended with a smile and a handshake.

    He gave us pride of family and country. You always felt like you as the viewer were part of his extended family since he let us in on the happenings going on in his life with his dad and son.

    Yes indeed, his flame has been extinguished, but his legacy lives on.

    I send my deepest sorrows to his family. A fathers pain in burying a child is the worst.


    June 16, 2008 at 9:56 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    Tim set the standard of excellence in his reporting and analysis of all things political. In a news world where we get more fluff and less hard news than ever before, you could turn to Tim and trust that he had his finger on the pulse of government and its officials and would unfailingly uncover the facts and the truths we as citizens needed to know.

    My heart aches for his family – his wife, son and father – their loss is immense. Losing someone like Tim who loved his family, his life, his work, and did everything with zest and commitment diminishes us all and hopefully inspires us to try to reach for that gold standard he represented.

    Tom Brokaw had the best quote when he announced Tim's death – "He will be missed as he was loved – greatly."

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 16, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  11. Judi

    Is anyone else actually angry? I feel so cheated! God, I wish his time on earth had been allowed to reflect the length of his contributions. This is a huge loss for our country. So often when celebrities pass away, the public mourning is sort of over the top for their contribution to the world. But in Tim Russert's passing, I truly do not know how I am going to be able to understand the rest of this historic election year's issues. We need him to keep politicians accountable and to ferret out all the nuances of the election process. He did all the heavy mental lifting for the rest of us. My whole family could share in Meet The Press once he took the helm. He is simply irreplaceable.

    I feel as if I am grieving a family member because Russert shared his adorable family with us all. Yet, while Tim Russert may have seemed like "everyman"... the man was special. Here in Cleveland, he was a student leader in his undergrad school and a loyal alumnus of his law school here. In his intellect, his curiosity and undertanding of human nature and politices, his gregarious personality, his inherent kindness and humilty and his generosity, he was extraordinary. And he shared those gifts with us. It was as if he wanted to remind us that "Hey, we don't have to lose what's best in us. Nuture and honor the really important things in life." What a man.

    I will be forever grateful that he shared his family with the world. Stories about Big Russs gave me words to express how I felt about my dad and the other men in my old Akron, OH neighborhood who were all cut from the same honest and steadfast "father-cloth." God rest his soul and bless his family and friends.

    June 16, 2008 at 8:45 pm |
  12. EJ (USA)

    Until Friday I had never heard of Tim Russert. As of Monday, I am already sick and tired of hearing about Tim Russert.

    Are you 12 years old? You are on a news/political site right now and you have never heard of Tim Russert?

    Did you catch any debates in the past several months? Or even catch any election nights in the past few years?

    June 16, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  13. EJ (USA)

    I cannot believe that Luke gave that interview to Matt Lauer this morning. Wow. He even cracked a few jokes. He is very handsome – My heart goes out to him and the rest of his family. I don't think I would even be able to talk.

    That picture of Luke touching the empty "Meet the Press" chair – I had to look at that several times today. What a powerful image – Just makes you cry!

    June 16, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  14. Jay, Sacramento

    Until Friday I had never heard of Tim Russert. As of Monday, I am already sick and tired of hearing about Tim Russert.

    How about we try something different for a change, like say maybe report the NEWS!?

    June 16, 2008 at 8:26 pm |
  15. Kathy

    Please let Luke know that his dad is and always will be proud of him!
    Tim will never be more than a prayer away.

    The pain will get easier to bear but will never completely go away. If it didn't hurt so bad, how would we ever know that they were really here?

    Prayers to Luke and the family.

    June 16, 2008 at 7:44 pm |
  16. Kathy, Chicago

    I've probably been watching him the least of all on the blog. I started watching last fall. I liked watching ABC, CNN, and NBC Sunday mornings to hear different views on the issues. I thought Tim Russert was always prepared, seemed down to earth but totally in charge. I especially enjoyed his round table. The guests were knowledgeable and seemed to really enjoy being on the show. There was a certain warmth on the set. I watched the tribute Sunday morning on "Meet The Press" and I cried. I didn't know him, but I felt like I did. My heart goes out to his friends and family. It seems like we lost one ot the "good guys".

    June 16, 2008 at 7:27 pm |
  17. Diane Connors

    Tim Russert touched so many people because he was not afraid to show us the things that truly matter in life....love of God, family, friends, country. Unfortunately in our modern world, these basic values have broken down and we see how much individuals, families, and civilization as a whole has suffered as a result. Too many of us go through life forsaking the simple values we were taught, and end up feeling lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled, never realizing exactly what is missing in our lives.

    I think seeing Tim's genuine passion for life and how he truly cared for people has left us all a bit envious. And this was the chord that he seems to have struck in his death. It was impossible not to have great respect for this man who was such a wonderful example to us all, of how we should live our lives and how we can attain true happiness.

    I watched Tim in the the broadcasts where he discussed the two books he had recently written. You couldn't help but get caught up in the simple fervor that came through him on the importance of life and relationships...again to God, family, friends and country. He was truly a modern missionary, and in his death even maybe more so than in his life, his message is being conveyed to so many more people.

    I believe some good comes out of every bad, and I think that perhaps in death Tim Russert has finally accomplished what he had been put on this earth to do.

    May he rest in peace.

    Diane C.
    Brooklyn, NY

    June 16, 2008 at 7:09 pm |
  18. Jolene

    David: My heart just stopped when I saw the empty chair on the "Meet the Press" set yesterday. Talk about a visual impact. That along with the whiteboard outside the NBC Washington Bureau. Seeing those two simple items, a chair and a whiteboard, just made his death seem that much more unbelievable. He truly will be irreplaceable. For me, you could trust Tim Russert. Because of his vast experience and also for his passion. You could see the "fire" and excitement in his eyes when he spoke and when he interviewed others. You appreciated his dedication to detail and for "doing his homework". He also had no reservations about letting his viewers know about his family, faith, and interests so he became more "human" to us rather than just a "celebrity" on TV.

    I enjoyed reading your quote from the George Bernard Shaw play. I especially related to "the harder I work, the more I live" part. As a person who gets accused of being a "workaholic" myself and not having a work/life balance, I think that part of the quote is so true. Great choice of words to describe Tim Russert's dedication and passion for his life and work. Thanks for sharing the quote and your thoughts today. Always appreciate when you blog!

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    June 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Megan Dresslar

    I agree with bloggers,
    My breaking for them and NBC news family, He was my favorite anchor " Meet the Press. He was so special man I know, He always love to share interview people or political team. I never forgot him forever. The chair never same without Tim Russert... This morning I watched on NBC Today Matt Lauer interview Tim's son Luke, He loved his father when I was so emotion for Luke. I would like to know how He did so hard at work. He was so amazing man I know. Thanks for his memory to remember. Hope the co-workers will be comfort without him and loss their friends. We will miss Tim for long time.
    David, It inspires me so good to see Tim interviewed all people including you too.
    Peace in Rest with Tim.
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    June 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  20. Jo Ann


    Although it was difficult to watch, I did appreciate the celebration of Tim’s life on "Meet the Press" this week. To viewers like myself who religiously watched Tim on NBC and MSNBC every week, he was more than just another member of the media; he seemed like part of the family.

    Tim never hid his joy and passion for his family, his profession, or the sports he loved so much. I think the thing that separates Tim from other journalists is the fact that he did not put up a barrier between himself and the viewer or the reader; instead he shared his life and his family with them. We felt like we knew Luke, Maureen, and, of course Big Russ because Tim talked about them on his shows so often and in his writings; because of that, he gained our trust and respect.

    Although Tim may have appeared a bit negative towards Hillary Clinton during the primary season, I always thought that he had the best interest of the viewer in mind. He forced his guests to account for what they had said and he always had the ability to strip away all the unnecessary excess in order to clarify things for the average citizen. He always respected the viewer and never spoke down to them. I think many of today’s so-called journalists could learn from that.

    I agree with Andrea Mitchell; Tim is the “gold standard.” Unfortunately, for the most part, we live in an age of manufactured newscasters who are only interested in being celebrities and shouting out their opinions, they do not possess the respect for journalism that Tim did. For them, journalism is a means to an end, for Tim, I think he believed that it was his calling. As Anderson might say, Tim had found his "bliss" in journalism and he pursued it with a passion. Tim could have been a lawyer or a politician, but instead he chose his profession from the heart and that made all the difference.

    I can't imagine "Meet the Press" without Tim. He will be terribly missed in our home.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 16, 2008 at 3:37 pm |
  21. Donna

    I have also been pleasantly surprised at how EVERYONE, not just NBC, has spoken so highly of this man. His son Luke did a superb job this morning on the Today Show. That young man will go places in this world, and it has nothing to do with wealth...it is the strong father and grandfather that he had. Not to downplay the role of his mother, but it is so important for sons to learn from their fathers. You could tell from the short interview this morning that he was taught family values, morals, ethics, and the soul cleansing power of laughter. Go Get 'Em, Tim.

    June 16, 2008 at 3:30 pm |
  22. Sheila

    This election, as exciting as it is, will be a whole lot dimmer without Tim Russert. He taught me all I know about politics. I trusted no one but him to tell the whole truth and to ask the questions that mattered. What am I going to do on Sunday mornings? I really feel sorry for the person who takes over Meet the Press. I hope they know that they can never fill his shoes and they should not try. I will watch them out of respect for Tim.

    June 16, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  23. Ken H

    Who can truly tell what causes one individual's death to touch us so deeply while another passes without notice? In the case of Tim Russert, I can think of a few reasons unpinning my own deep reaction.

    First, Russert exclaimed his own sensitivity and commitment to family without reservation or embarrassment. I always felt like this guy, in understanding his own values so deeply, somehow tapped into the best principles we all hoped to emulate. He was an ordinary, family man, yet so true to himself that he stood out as extraordinary.

    Second, he was genuinely nice. Guests on Meet the Press would be treated to a smile, a friendly demeanor, and real concern for them as individuals, even as they might face tough, unflinching questions on the topic at hand. Who else showed this nice-guys-do-finish-first attitude? Very few in the public eye. I always wanted to like him for this gentility in the midst of a tough job.

    Third, over the past ten years, I've seen the broadcasting community become a swarm of partisans, shouting louder and longer, it hopes of stimulating strong reactions among viewers/listeners, and raising their own ratings in response. Think of McLaughlin, Buchanan, Dobbs, Limbaugh, King, Hannity, and many more. Where did civility go? Where can we find honest, fair commentary? Where can we hear interviews seeking the truth with no political agenda? Find any show with Tim Russert moderating or participating, that's where.

    For me, these characteristics raised Tim Russert to an increasingly rare plain. He was someone to trust, to like, to value, to emulate. I'll truly miss this rare public figure.

    June 16, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  24. Richard Smykle

    CNN is to be complimented on its coverage and tribute to Tim Russert. It is not usual for a competitative news organization to devote so much time and wonderful tributes to s person. Thank you for this. It makes me feel proud that we can all come together in times like this.

    June 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm |
  25. penny

    "I never knew he was so nice!! He was also BIG RUSS because he was so humble. I don't think anyone can replace him. I hope GOD shows him favor in HEAVEN!!

    June 16, 2008 at 2:15 pm |
  26. Renee

    The question is who will carry Russert's torch?

    June 16, 2008 at 1:48 pm |
  27. Charlotte D

    Tim Russert was Everyman and we should be so blessed if every man was half as decent, smart and compassionate as Tim. He was an exceptional journalist and the epitome of "fair and balanced." I would have done this anyway, but on my walk this morning, I made it a special point to smile and wave at the garbage man as he made his rounds through our neighborhood. Maybe he has a son at home who looks up to him like Tim looked up to Big Russ.

    June 16, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  28. Lee in CA

    A splendid torch indeed! It's now Monday morning, and I still feel as though a member of my own family has passed away. A vital member. The pillar of truth. The enthusiastic proponent of everything good that life has to offer. The embodiment of sincere passion for family, friends and colleagues. An irreplaceable force within journalism that set a platinum standard for others to aspire towards. In the world of journalism, few candles will ever burn as brightly as Tim Russert's. For the time he was with us, we are thankful. And we are saddened that it was far too short a time. But the wisdom and guidance he has left for us all is a gift, and we are enriched from his presence.

    June 16, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  29. Abigail WK

    I too, like many others, was shocked, stunned and saddened by the sudden loss of Tim Russert. I echo the sentiments of many who say he was tough, but fair. Perhaps a tribute to him is that he could take a person like me – relatively uninterested in politics- and engage me in the process. I've never really cared for politicians in the way people don't necessarily care for car salesmen – you just don't seem to get a sense that they're being completely truthful. The political process was never that interesting to me either. Tim had a way, through his own excitement and enthusiasm, of pulling you in and making it easier to understand the process. He made public figures accountable.

    Political news was not verified, at least to me, unless Tim said it or agreed with it. He will be greatly missed, especially in the months to come. For me that is the most unfair, that he will not be here to witness and walk us through this historic election.

    God Bless you Tim....from an unlikely fan

    June 16, 2008 at 1:18 pm |
  30. Afiya

    I learned everything I know about politics from Tim Russert...I will soarly miss him.

    May you R.I.P. Tim! and condolence to your family and many friends.

    June 16, 2008 at 1:15 pm |
  31. Bev C NY

    Tim Russert was just a down-to-earth guy who never forgot his roots. He was Buffalo's biggest cheerleader, unlike others on TV who think Buffalo is a joke. That's why he was loved by all. we will miss him here and miss seeing him on TV. The elections won't be the same without him. He had class!

    Bev Cortese
    Town of Tonawanda, NY (suburb of Buffalo)

    June 16, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  32. Cindy

    I have read a lot of things that people have said about Tim since his death. He seems to have been a great man who put his family and religion before anything or anyone else. He will be greatly missed. There will definitely be no other like him for a while.

    I also saw his son Luke on with Matt Lauer this morning. He did a great job! His dad would have been so proud!


    June 16, 2008 at 1:06 pm |