Tim Russert’s friend and classmate John Marcus ’72 attended Tim’s memorial celebration in Washington, DC. John wrote the following account of the celebration and shared it
with the class of 1972.
What a celebration for a man we loved so much. I thought I would jot a few notes from the couple of days that the big Irish guy would have loved.
The Mass at Holy Trinity was beautiful. A stained glass image of St. Ignatius looked down on a church filled with friends, politicians, and presidential candidates McCain and Obama; and presided over by Cardinal McCarrick and the Jesuit presidents of Canisius HS, John Carroll, and Boston College.
We had a good group of JCU people represented. Jayse Caulfield and Billy Brown ’70 and Dennis Quilty were pallbearers. And there were a group of us that included myself, Tom Ryan, Jack Hague, Chris Schuba ’74, Billy Doyle (fresh from flying in from France), Joe McMahon, Mark Pacelli, Pat Hogan, Chico, Larry Ray, Paul Gandillot ’70, Bergy, Maggio, and Craig Roach.
As we sat looking at all of the faces from official Washington – the A list – or as Tim would say – all his “pals,” I kept expecting someone to tap us on the shoulder and ask us to leave.
The Mass was moving and Luke was impressive with his eulogy. We commented how, seeing him gripping the podium and rocking the “Russert rock” moving back and forth while speaking ... how he so much resembled his dad.
There were readings from the Book of Timothy and the Book of Luke, hymns like “On Eagle’s Wings,” and a beautiful rendition of “Danny Boy” by Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan, who flew in from Ireland at the behest of Maureen.
We found it amusing that everyone stared at Larry Ray – thinking it was Senator Kerry – until Senator Kerry walked by. I think even HE did a double-take.
Afterwards we went to Sequoia, a restaurant on the Potomac, and were joined by Fr. Niehoff, president of JCU, and Ronan Tynan, who sat next to us and shared stories. Bergy got a call from Lindstrom – and I can’t even make this up – he asked Bergy if there was one or two “Ls” in Carroll.
They told the story about how Russert – giving the commencement speech at Notre Dame – said he just received the best of both worlds, “an honorary degree from Notre Dame and a Jesuit education!” (I don’t believe he was ever invited back!)
During the day we received e-mails from Agnone, Donna Brown, Mike Scanlon ’69, Neil Conway, Dan Weitzel ’78, Ed Staunton ’74, Farrell, Weber and so many others who so badly wished they were with us.
We made our way to The Kennedy Center. The “I’m sorry you have to leave” anxiety crept again – now the Clintons were there and more faces that you see on TV than ... you see on TV. (I have taken the highlights of the distinguished group of speakers and excerpted them below.)
Afterwards we made our way up to the Terrace on top of The Kennedy Center for a reception. All the A-List was there ... but Jayse, Pacelli, and I could not find the Carroll guys. We walked through the entire crowd, checked all the bars, and had no luck. Finally Jayse asked a barkeep – “Is there another bar – somewhere up here – that is away from the crowd – maybe that NO ONE knows about?” The waiter pointed to the back.
And there it was. An empty room ... with a fully stocked bar and no one in sight and doors leading out to the deck overlooking the beautiful Capital City. We grabbed a beer, made our way outside, and there, going fist to fist with Luke’s St. Alban’s guys, were the JCU guys toasting Big Red.
I swear – as we lifted our glasses – a DOUBLE RAINBOW appeared and deposited a full spectrum of color onto the trees at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
We smiled. We wiped away a tear, and drank to Tim.
We all met Luke. What a boy!
After shaking our hands and receiving our condolences – he looked around – his pitch raised as if expectant – and said, “Where’s Bergy?”
When Bergy walked through the door, Luke hugged him like the uncle Bergy was.
After a couple of hours we made our way back to Bethesda, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philly, and other places around this country … knowing a little piece of Tim traveled with us – firmly placed in our memories – and in our hearts – as we made our way home.
We will miss you, big guy.
The afternoon of Tim Russert’s memorial service in Washington, DC, a double rainbow
appeared over the city. (Photo by Ryan Daly ’99.)
Excerpts from the speeches
Luke, I have never been absolutely clear just how you got your name. Before some audiences, Tim would piously explain, "I was inspired by St. Luke," but he also told Paul Newman that you got your name because of Cool Hand Luke. Now my guess is, right about now: "St. Luke, no, no, you really were the inspiration. I only told that to Paul Newman because I was trying to book him on Meet the Press."...
"Big Russ" is not with us here in this hall today. He's watching, however, I am assured, from Buffalo. And I want to take just a moment to talk to him. "Big Russ," you may remember about a dozen years ago you sent me this. (HE HOLDS UP A MUG.)
This is a mug from the American Legion Post 721 in South Buffalo. And for every morning since that time, it has been my first companion as I brush my teeth. But now, I'm going to set this mug aside. I'm going to save it for election night. I'm going to fill it
with this Rolling Rock that I pilfered just today from Tim's cooler, here in Washington. I'll fill the mug with the Rolling Rock and I hope that a call will come: "Tommy B., what's happening? This is wild!"
But, I know that that call won't come. The voice will linger only in my heart and in my memory. And so on election night, "Big Russ," I will raise this glass to you. For your gift to us of Tim and to your favorite saying – it was his and mine as well – "What a country." Thank you.
Betsy Fischer, executive producer, Meet the Press:
I've work with Tim for the past 17 years. Almost every morning for the last 10 years, Tim would call at exactly 9 a.m. and say, "Hey, Beth, what do you know?" His voice always beaming with excitement, ready to start the day preparing for the show. What I wouldn't give for that phone call tomorrow morning.
Sister Lucille Socciarelli, a Sister of Mercy, Buffalo, New York:
Timothy John Russert, in all of my 55 years as a Sister of Mercy, Tim Russert stands head and shoulders above all the many students that I have been blessed to have taught.
... I tried zealously to convince him that diagramming English sentences would benefit him one day, but to no avail. "How?" he asked. "How would that happen? Who and why would anyone ever ask me about a subject, predicate, and direct object?"
Oftentimes before classes began, in the morning, and sometime during the lunch hour, and even after school, the field or the empty lot, right next to St. Bonaventure school, was the official basketball, baseball, and hockey field. "Go, Sister," he’d say, "Run!" Tim would shout, urging me on. Rosary beads flying, veil flying, in those days, we had the complete habit. Not only did Tim choose me for his team, he always picked the kids that he thought might not be chosen at all. Tim also introduced the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization, into the parish of St. Bonaventure. He went on to become president of the diocesan chapter. Because of his actions and service on behalf of others, Tim received the … Hands of Christ Award.
It is the highest award in the CYO.
This Irish kid from South Buffalo and I, a[n] … Irish daughter of Dubliner, Catherine McAuley, the founders of the Sisters of Mercy, shared a common bond. Our love of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. We rang doorbells, made signs, stuffed envelopes. Those were the days when it felt that anything was possible. We worked hard and we loved every single minute of it. In my mind and heart, ever since Friday, June 13, I hear God, "Here's little Timmy Russert. You're in heaven now, Tim, where every day is Meet the Press. Welcome home."
Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York:
A true story. I've never told it before.
But I'm too old to run again, and so I can afford to tell it now.
The seatbelt law was perhaps the most unpopular thing I did. It was the first seatbelt law in the United States of America, and it was followed by everybody except New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die." They chose to ...whatever.
After it was passed, we were in a parade and our car got rear-ended. But I was not wearing my seatbelt! Timothy jumps out of the car. The press jumps up out of the press's car. They've run over. They said to Timothy, "How is the governor?" Timothy had instinct. He had that great Jesuit education. He wasn't about to lie. He said, "Thank God for the seatbelt."
.... And over and over, you hear people saying, "All I saw was Tim on Sunday mornings on television. I never saw him in person, but I felt that I knew him." How do you explain that? It's not because he was a great journalist. His success as a journalist was enough to win him respect, but it was not enough to win him love. And that's what million of people feel for him. They loved his genuineness, his integrity.
He regarded a day spent without real enthusiasm as a sadly lost opportunity. And enthusiasm – enthusiasm is exactly the right word for it. The Jesuits, who did such a good job teaching him, probably taught him that the English word "enthusiasm" is from the ancient Greek word meaning a divine appreciation of the gift of life. And oh, how he loved life and how that has helped millions and millions of others to love all that he represents.
We have lost the benefit of Tim's political wisdom at a time when we need it most: a time when we're beset with wars, economic failures, and confoundedly complicated social issues. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace that wisdom. But the inspiration he provided, as an example of the life well led, will be with us all until memory
Mike Barnicle, journalist:
I'm Mike Barnicle. I'm the head of Luke Russert's security detail. And I'm here today for Eaton, Tierney, and Quilty. They, Dennis Quilty, Bob and Doc Tierney, along with Judge Dick Eaton and so many more are only a few of the many friends who knew and loved Tim across all the years, apart from politics and outside the media.
So let me tell you about Tim in the summers of his life. His favorite season, I think, even more perhaps than the political parade of fall. When I shut my eyes, I see him at dusk on the grand porch of the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has a Rolling Rock in one hand and a newspaper in the other ... I see him on a fishing boat in Nantucket, the great fly caster from Holy Family Parish in South Buffalo. A man who would need hand grenades to get fish out of the ocean.
I see him at baseball all-star games in Denver and Philadelphia and Boston with his boy and my boys, and I see him wearing his constant summer uniform: the T-shirt or double X golf shirt. The ones with the ketchup and mustard stains all over them.
I see him crying after helping Luke move into a freshman dorm at Boston College.
I see him in the summer of 1991 when the Barnicles and the Russerts decided to visit the Brokaws in Montana. We would race to see who could be first to get to the Brokaws.
Well, we sped along this flat ribbon of road for miles ... until we noticed the blue light in the rearview mirror. We pulled over. Montana state trooper gets out, comes up to the cars, takes our licenses and registrations. The trooper went to his car to get his ticket book, and he came back with a puzzled look on his face. He told us he had a problem. We were both speeding, but he only had one ticket left in his book. Tim looked at him, and said, only as Tim could say, "Well, I was following him. Is that helpful, sir?"
Maria Shriver, former NBC colleague:
I lost my heart to Timmy Russert the day I met him. And the entire time I knew him, he took care of it. He protected my heart when it needed protection. He nurtured it when it needed care. And he helped it grow. And he never, ever broke it. A rare man indeed.
I remember so well the day I showed up to work at NBC News. But I walked in these doors of 30 Rock, and I have to admit, I was wounded and quite scared. And Tim came up to me, put a big arm around me, took me to the side and he whispered, "Look, I was also educated by the nuns. I was educated by the Jesuits. I'm Irish Catholic, too. There aren't that many of us here in this building." He said, "But if we stick together, we'll be just fine."
Not too long ago, he called me when he heard that my daughter was interested in applying to Boston College. And he said, "Look, Maria, it's competitive at Boston College. You need to know people in Boston.”
“You need to know people" – yes, yes. He said, "You need to know people
in the Catholic Church. You need ME if you want your daughter to get
I thanked him profusely and said, "Oh, my God. You're so right. I grew up on the Cape. I don't know a person in Boston. And I've been educated in Catholic schools, and I don't know anybody in the church. Thank you, Tim. Please, make sure my daughter gets into Boston College."
He loved helping people. He loved helping people who worked for him. He loved helping strangers. He loved anybody who he thought he could help. And with that same Russert radar, he just knew who among us needed his help.
When my uncle [Edward Kennedy] had a seizure a few weeks ago, the first phone call I
got after my other brother Timmy was from Tim. He called me up and said, "How's Teddy doing?" And I talked to him. And then he said, "Now talk to me about you. Who's with you? How are you? What can I do for you? Are you all right?"
And because he was so devoted to his dad, he always called to check on mine. Tim and Maureen have a special place in my dad, Sarge's, life. And they would always call to find out how he was. And even when I would come into town and it was a Saturday night and invite them to come over, they always did. And my dad was always, and is always, so
proud of Maureen, that she was one of the first women in this country to enlist in the Peace Corps, that she was so brave.
And every time she would come over, he'd marvel at her and the school that was named after her and the legacy that she created. And he'd always say, I like that guy she married, as well. And every time Tim would come over, my mother would say when he left, Now, that's the kind of jolly Irish Catholic boy I always thought you would marry.
A few years ago, when my cousin died, John, in an unexpected way, I was given a poem by a friend that helped me through some pretty dark days. It gave me some peace within whenever I thought about him in a faraway place, that I would be unable to see him or talk to him again. I read it many, many times and I thought I could share it with all of
you today with the hope that it might also give you some peace within. It goes like this:
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea. The setting sun tinted its white sails with a golden light. And as it disappeared from view, a voice at my side whispered, He is gone. But the sea was a narrow one, and on the furthest shore, a little band of friends had gathered to watch in happy expectation.
Suddenly, they caught sight of the tiny sail. And at the very moment when my companion had whispered, He is gone, a glad shout went up in joyous welcome with the words, yes, here he comes!
God bless you. God bless you, Tim. Thank you.
Brian Williams, anchor, NBC Nightly News:
This quote came from November 24, 1963. Of the young president we had just lost, Mr. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a young assistant secretary of labor, famously said, I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess we thought we had a little more time. I should quickly add, Tim didn't inherit that dark corner of the Irish tradition, the Irish condition. As Maria correctly pointed out, he was a jolly Irish Catholic kid. He had the original sunny disposition. He was an optimist, always choosing to dwell on the positive.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian, author:
...Tim once said to me that he could never understand why a politician could not say, You're right, I've changed my mind on that issue. There is only one politician who could have consistently given Tim the answer he craved, but that would mean bringing Abraham Lincoln back as Tim's guest on Meet the Press. Just imagine it. On the screen, Tim would have put up several contradictory statements that Lincoln said about slavery in 1832, 1842, and 1852. This would not fluster Lincoln, however. For as history records, whenever he had to say that he had changed his position, he had a simple answer: Yes, you're right. I have changed my position. I'd like to believe I'm smarter today than I was yesterday.
I cannot tell you how many times in the presence of others, Tim would spur me to tell a story I had long since told him, so that the people sitting with us could enjoy it. Tell me about Lincoln and the critic, he would prompt. And I would tell the story of the man who shouted at Lincoln, You're two-faced, Mr. Lincoln. To which Lincoln responded, If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this face?
A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the sad news about Senator Kennedy's brain tumor, I told Tim of a conversation I had had with Rose Kennedy decades ago as she remarked on the shortened lives of her children, most notably, Jack and Bobby. She said she found solace in the thought that if they could come back, they would still choose the
lives they'd been given to lead, for they'd been blessed with so much achievement and so much fulfillment.
Tim said he understood what she was saying, for he, too, had already been blessed with all that he could want, with work he adored and a family he loved, blessed beyond his wildest imagination. I am honored to be one of those storytellers tonight. Thank you.
Yesterday at the wake, we were very touched. People of all races and religions and creeds came to the door to St. Alban's to pay respects to my father. We had even one woman who drove from South Dakota, two old ladies who flew in from Lubbock, Texas, dozens who flew in from California, a son and a father who drove from South Carolina, just a guy from Vermont, a guy from Minnesota. And I think the entire city of Buffalo managed to find their way down to Washington.
All throughout high school and college, I was taught to avoid clichés...like the plague. In my 22 years, I have never met anybody filled with so much optimism, who not only loved the good parts of life, but also its challenges.
The other night, a friend of mine reminded me to look at chapter 20 of Big Russ and Me, in a chapter that's called "Loss." It was about Michael Gartner, my dad's friend, who lost his 17-year-old son to acute juvenile diabetes some years ago.
After his passing, my dad phoned Michael. And he said to him, Michael, think of it this way. What if God had come to you and said, I'm going to make you an offer. I will give you a beautiful, a wonderful, happy, and lovable son for 17 years, but then it will be
time for him to come home? You would make that deal in a second, right?
Well, I only had 22 years, but I, too, would make that deal in a heartbeat.
... So, I ask you, this Sunday, in your hearts and in your minds, to imagine a Meet the Press special edition, live from inside St. Peter's gate. Maybe Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr will be on for the full hour debating.
... George Bernard Shaw said, this is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a muddy one, being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances.
Well, my dad was a force of nature. And now his own cycle in nature is complete. But his spirit lives on in everybody who loves their country, loves their family, loves their faith, and loves those Buffalo Bills.
I love you, Dad.