06/16/08 — An exemplary life: Tim Russert taught us by what he did and who he was

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An exemplary life: Tim Russert taught us by what he did and who he was

Tim Russert’s untimely death took up a lot of space in the news this weekend.

And it was sad — a man who so loved his family and put so much value on his responsibilities as a son and as a father dying just a couple of days before a holiday that lauds both.

Some people might have thought the coverage was a bit much. Russert wasn’t a Hollywood star with decades of contributions, and he did not leave a mark on history in the same vein as a head of state or other major contributor.

But there are two reasons that Russert’s life was worth examining and modeling and why the tributes to him were so important to hear — especially for those who either serve the public in the political realm or who plan on being journalists someday.

Say what you want about Russert and his stint on “Meet the Press,” but he was an equal opportunity tough guy when it came to questioning those tasked with serving the public and those who aspired to serve.

He did not let anyone get away with anything.

He has said in interviews that he felt that was his duty — and that his love of all things political came from a deep-seated love of his country — warts and all.

It came from his own sense of remembering where he came from — a blue collar home in Buffalo, N.Y., hardly a privileged childhood. He never forgot that neighborhood or those who still live there.

Many of those who paid tribute to him this weekend have forgotten where they came from — and what it is like to be a middle class family struggling to bring up children with values and futures.

Russert could have taught them that what is inside and the journey to success is so much more important than stardom — that keeping touch with who you are and how you got there is the real key to telling stories that matter.

Russert could have taught millions of young journalists how to welcome diversity of opinion and how to live up to the no-holds-barred questioning of all comers who want to represent or do represent this nation.

He understood the value of all types of viewpoints and listened to many over the years.

But more importantly, he could have conveyed to many of his coworkers as well as many of the Washington glitterati that the stories that they will cover that matter the most will not be in the halls of Congress or in the back rooms of the White House.

He could have put them back in touch with people like his dad — a garbage man in Buffalo — and many others like him, who sweat and toil each day to help create this great country.

So, the tributes were well-deserved, but the lessons of his life were his treasure left for a new generation of journalists — and dads and sons — to discover.

Russert had roots and an unending sense that there could be something better here, if all of us take the time to listen and those who are tasked with guarding this country’s freedoms do their job.

The bright spot in the sadness of his death is that he might have made a few people think a little bit about their lives, their jobs, their responsibilities and their priorities.

And that is a contribution beyond awards, ratings and fame.

Published in Editorials on June 16, 2008 10:28 AM