My Good Friend Walter Cronkite
"The biggest thing on my mind these days is the death of Walter Cronkite. My life will not be the same without him. Walter wasn't the best anchorman there ever was for me. He was my friend.
"Walter and I met in London in 1944 covering the Eighth Air Force. We often took the train to Bedford with our friends Homer Bigart, Gladwyn Hill and Dick Tregaskis, three of the best reporters there ever were.
"I liked Walter from the first time I ever met him and we often ate together on Fleet Street in London where our offices were only two blocks from each other.
"Walter joined CBS in 1950, recruited by Edward R. Murrow. I went to work for CBS in 1948, writing for Arthur Godfrey.
"Walter left the evening news in 1981 when he was 64. I guess that was the start of his most famous years, too. Two or three nights a week, 51 weeks a year, one organization after another would present Walter with some kind of an award or honor. One of the best things about giving Walter an award was that he always liked it. He was genuinely appreciative when someone gave him something. Walter was one of the few people I've ever known who had actually worn out three tuxedos getting awards. He would have loved to be here now to hear us all saying nice things about him.
"Walter wasn't just someone I knew casually, either. When I was suspended from CBS many years ago for some inappropriate remarks I made, Walter called me that day and said, 'I'd like to use whatever residual goodwill I have with the American people by being seen at dinner with you tonight.'
"I saw Walter all the time, of course. He joined me, for instance, in 1976 at a Scandinavian restaurant for a documentary I was doing for CBS about eating out in America. I modestly named it 'Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner.'
(In the video clip of our dinner together from the documentary, which was shown at the memorial service, the follow conversation takes place:)
ANDY: I ATE IN THE COPENHAGEN ONE DAY WITH A FRIEND. HE'S A SMORGASBORD EXPERT.
WALTER: THIS IS A DANISH SOMETHING...
WALTER: THAT'S RIGHT...THAT'S WHAT IT IS...THAT'S THE WORD I WAS THINKING...
ANDY: YOU WERE GRASPING FOR... IN OTHER WORDS, YOU REALLY TAKE A MINIMUM OF THREE...YOU REALLY TAKE...YOU GO BACK A MINIMUM OF THREE TIMES.
WALTER: I THINK SO, YEAH, I THINK THE AVERAGE GUY WOULD PROBABLY...ANY RESTAURANT YOU GO TO, WHERE THE DESSERT TRAY IS BROUGHT IN LIKE THIS. EVERY TABLE, THE REACTION WOULD BE THE SAME...PEOPLE RECOIL...THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY MAKING THE STATEMENT TO THEIR FRIEND, I SHOULDN'T...OH, NO, I SHOULDN'T...NO, TAKE THAT AWAY...I DON'T WANT TO EVEN LOOK AT THAT...BUT MAYBE I'LL JUST HAVE A LITTLE BIT.
"For many years, Walter would invite us to join him and Betsy on his sailboat, Wyntje. Once, while we were sailing in Maine several years ago, we tied up near a little village and Walter and Betsy went into a country store. This strange-looking character comes up to Walter and asks him a question. Walter was always polite to his fans and, with Betsy standing there, Walter said, 'Oh sure. We've met several times. We're not really close friends. I talk to him once in a while.' Walter and Betsy then went outside and Betsy says, 'Did you hear who he asked you about?' Walter, who didn't hear very well, said, 'No, I didn't.' 'Well,' Betsy said, 'he asked if you knew Jesus Christ.'
"Another time, while sailing close to the shore, Walter was steering his boat when he saw someone on shore waving his arms. He waved back smiling and kept going, and in another 30 seconds we hit bottom. Walter looked around and said. 'What just happened?' I replied, 'Didn't you hear what that guy was yelling? He was yelling, 'LOW WATER.' He looked at me and said, 'I thought he was saying, 'HELLO, WALTER.'
"I've seen Walter in 10,000 situations since 1944 and he was good at almost all of them. He was a great anchorman in the news business because his greatest contribution was not his knowledge or his expertise, as great as those were. It was his steady holding to what was most important.
"Every writer, every newsman or woman who's worth anything, secretly hopes that he or she will have some good influence on the world. It's a preposterous wish, of course, but my friend had it. If it can be said about any individual in our business that he's been a force for good in the world, Walter Cronkite was that person."
(Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(c) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.