I was driving home from work on Friday when my Blackberry flashed and beeped, signalling a new message. I clicked on it to see what had crossed (yes, while I was still driving), and nearly drove off the road.
It was a news bulletin and it read: Tim Russert dead at 58.
I immediately called my boss. "Tell me it's not true!" I demanded. She sighed. "It's true. Can you fucking believe it?"
I could not fucking believe it. And I still can't.
Tim Russert and Robert Mak are the only two journalists I can watch for politics. They break down races and issues in a way that lets me clearly understand what's going on. Tim has always come across as friendly and down to earth. And even if that white board he uses on election night might seem a little cheesy, it didn't look out of place in his hands.
I didn't know a lot about Tim Russert before Friday. I only knew him as the moderator of "Meet the Press", which I watched religiously on Sunday mornings. I knew him as the "go to" guy during elections coverage, the guy who can gauge the political wind by the exit polls. The guy who declared Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee recently, in his matter of fact style. That following weekend, Hillary Clinton bowed out of the race.
In addition to politics, he had also written two best-selling books-- honoring fathers.
As I watched live coverage of his life and death (which ran not just on MSNBC, but CNN and Fox News, I learned about the man behind the white board: the proud husband and father, the devout Catholic, the mentor and inspirational boss. And I felt the gaping loss at his death even more keenly.
I learned that he had returned to Washington, DC after taking his wife and son to Italy as a graduation gift for his son. They stayed in Italy while he came home to work. He was at work, recording voiceovers when he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, but doctors could not save him.
Hour after hour, I watched anchors and reporters laud him; from a stalwart Tom Brokaw, to a quivery Keith Olberman; from a somber Andrea Mitchell, to boyish David Gregory, telling funny stories about Tim. Greta van Sustern on Fox News sang his praises. Campbell Brown led the coverage on CNN. All three aired messages from the President. From John McCain. Barack Obama. They conducted live interviews with politicians, past and present, Democrat, Republican, Independent, who had sat in the hot seat and faced him. They all said the same thing: Tim Russert had been tough, but he had been fair.
New agencies around the globe reported on his death. The BBC website let readers leave comments. Those comments ranged far and wide, from the US to Dubai, where this comment came from: "A true Journalist who asked the right question in the most difficult of situations. A serious loss to TV journalism first Peter Jennings & now Tim Russert. If it was possible , I know Tim would have reported from the heavens." Indeed.
Back to my boss. As we wrapped up our conversation, I said to her, "He died doing what he loved. If this isn't a great big fucking wake-up call to get out there and do what you love, then I don't know what is."
She sighed. "I know."
Boss, you'll have my resignation on Monday.