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WASHINGTON, DC – “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert was remembered Wednesday as not only a journalist at the top of his game but as a passionate devoted family man who never forgot his roots.
In a memorial service at the Kennedy Center that brought together official Washington and the media elite, Russert was recalled fondly by the nun who taught him seventh grade, friends and colleagues, and a musical tribute by Bruce Springsteen playing a guitar and harmonica, “Thunder Road.”
The service was just as much remembrance and laughter as it was tears, with Tom Brokaw opening with these words: “This is a celebration and we’re going to do it Irish style,” referring to the very Irish Russert. “There will be some tears, some laughs and the occasional truth.”
It was Brokaw who lightened the mood immediately when the former anchor welcomed Russert’s family and friends “and the largest contingent of all, those who think they should be his successor on ‘Meet the Press.'” The room broke out in laughter.
Touching moments came from Russert’s 22-year-old son, Luke, who introduced himself as “proud son of Tim and Maureen.” He said the family had been touched by the outpouring of grief, which included people driving from South Dakota and flying from Lubbock, Texas, and California.
He imagined the special edition of “Meet the Press” that must be going on in heaven right now, perhaps “Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr would be on, for the full hour,” or John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater debating the campaign of 2008 or Teddy Roosevelt on the need for a third party.
Brokaw, Brian Williams, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and others told stories of Russert the man, with California first lady Maria Shriver saying that he was always like a brother and always looking out for her, most recently with the news that her uncle Ted Kennedy had a brain tumor.
Attending the memorial service, which was broadcast live on MSNBC, were former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Sen. Bob Dole, Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Charles Gibson and CBS News President Sean McManus. Every major figure from NBC News also attended.
“It’s a tribute to Tim,” said NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker after the ceremony. “He was beloved.”
“He was a jolly Irish Catholic kid,” said “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. “He had the original sunny disposition. He was an optimist, always choosing to dwell on the positive.”
Outside, rain and a rumble of thunder fell over the Potomac River location of the Kennedy Center.
But, like the sunny disposition and optimism that friends time and again invoked at the memorial service, there was a sliver lining in the dark clouds.
A large, bright rainbow shone over Washington, greeting mourners who left the Kennedy Center.
Earlier at Russert’s private funeral, a sense of his importance was in the fact that presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain sat together.
“Only Tim could make that happen,” said a longtime colleague after the memorial service.
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