Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No one here gets out alive

Death is the great equalizer. Everyone dies. You can't sing, dance, paint, sculpt, write, negotiate, discover, you can't even buy your way out. Nope. The world has lost four giants in the last few weeks. The latest are two members of one of America's most important families - Eunice Kennedy Shriver and last night, Senator Edward Kennedy. Huge losses on a global scale.

CBS lost two of its own legends. Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes, and Walter Cronkite, arguably the best newsman of the 20th century.

I used to work for CBS News. Twice. First in 1971 and again in 1978. (Yeah, I'm THAT old.) In '71, I worked down the hall from 60 Minutes and often saw Don Hewitt, knew him only well enough to say, "hello." He was kinda scary. Small guy. But still, kinda scary. I think it was because he was so smart and so good at what he did.

I knew Walter Cronkite only slightly better. But he made a huge impression on me. He was a great newsman. He was also a prince. I would often see him walking down "Executive Row" (the long hallway that led from the 57th St. and Tenth Ave. entrance back to the newsroom and the Evening News studio) and he would peek his head into every office and greet every secretary, every mailroom guy, anyone he encountered along the way. In 1976, I was an Associate Director in the radio division. It was a pretty easy gig and an enjoyable one, too. One afternoon, I came in for my shift and noticed I was scheduled for Walter's (he insisted that everyone, including us plebes call him "Walter") radio show. I was kinda freaked out and figured well, he doesn't really need direction. I'll just show up in the control room and he'll do the rest. Wrong. We introduced ourselves, shook hands, he took his place in front of the microphone and I took mine in the control room. And there he sat. Finally, he turned on his mike and said to me, "Aren't you going to cue me?" I was frozen. And he, obviously, realized I was awestruck, too. He very kindly - and with a big smile on his face - said, "Bonnie, you have your job and I have mine. And until you do yours, I can't do mine." I did...and he did and although it's such a tiny thing, I will never forget it. Classy, classy, classy.

In my office, I have a big black and white framed poster of him from a 1985 seminar series. He's in profile, left hand to his chin, in a very pensive pose at his newsdesk. And although faded, the inscription reads, "For Bonnie, For that's the way it is. Walter Cronkite."

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