The sudden death on Friday of Tim Russert, NBC News Washington bureau chief and host of “Meet the Press” for almost 17 years, leaves a tremendous void in Washington journalistic and political circles - and for countless friends and admirers whose lives he touched. But most of all, his passing is mourned by his wife, Maureen Orth, and son Luke, and his father, Tim Russert Sr., best known as “Big Russ.”
Mr. Russert, 58, suffered a fatal heart attack while recording voiceovers for Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” was among the most influential and respected figures in American journalism. It wasn’t just his extraordinary research skills which set the standard for everyone else in the profession. It wasn’t just the fact that he was scrupulously fair - relentlessly grilling conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. And it wasn’t just his shrewdness and ability to cut through political spin. It was much more than that. Tim Russert Jr. set a standard of excellence for journalists. Less well-known, however, was the fact that his fame and fortune never went to his head. He treated people - be they waiters or repairmen, colleagues at NBC News or powerful politicians - the same: with dignity and respect. Over the past few days, we have heard conservatively speaking hundreds of stories from people in all walks of life about the kindness and generosity of Tim Russert.
One measure of a person’s character is how they treat waiters in restaurants - people who must perform very difficult jobs under extraordinary pressure. A few months ago, Mr. Russert was dining with a well-known NBC News correspondent who verbally abused a waitress who got his dinner order wrong. Mr. Russert chewed the correspondent out and warned him never to behave that way in front of him again. Tim Russert was not just the top television journalist of his time. He was above all a man of great decency and honor.