Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert

It was a sad day for me when Tim Russert died in June, 2008. He was a wonderful news person, extremely intelligent and articulate. I never missed a Sunday of Meet the Press when he was the moderator, if I could help it. And what was election night without Tim and his whiteboard? Big Russ and Me is Tim's memoir and tribute to his father and mentor, Big Russ.

Tim Russert was the son of a garbage collector and newspaper courier, Tim Russert Sr., and Betty Russert. The family was a very blue collar, middle class family who lived in Buffalo, New York. The book reads as if Tim is actually talking to the reader. It is down to earth and personal. Big Russ was a wounded vet from World War II and was grounded in hard work and honesty. These two virtues he passed on to his son. Being nearly the same age as young Tim, I recognized many similarities in upbringing, values, interests, and viewpoints. Tim Russert was educated in the Catholic school system of Buffalo and then proceeded to attend Cannisius College, a Jesuit institution. From there he went to John Carroll University Law School in Cleveland. He was a devout man, although not over zealous. His descriptions of meeting the Pope convey his adoration of the man and the position. Through a series of being in the right place at the right time and very hard work, Russert rose through the political offices of the city of Buffalo, Daniel Patrick Moynihan's staff, and NBC news.

The chapter titles of Big Russ and Me resonate with many boomers as major aspects of one's life. - Work, Faith, Food (love the Beef and Weck of Buffalo), Baseball, Fatherhood, Discipline, 1968, Cars, and Loss. In each Russert describes that aspect of his love in almost a reverend way. Reading about him and his father, and uncle traveling to Cleveland each year for an Indians game - usually a doubleheader - brought back so many fond memories of the afternoons I spent at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. So much of the history of the 60s is detailed with his reactions to it. John Glenn orbiting the earth, the assassination of John Kennedy, and the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are major turning points in his life as they were in all of our lives. His descriptions are heartfelt and insightful as he reminisces.

As much is this book is a tribute to Russert's father, it is also a love song to the city of Buffalo. This was his home and although he moved to Washington, D.C., he never felt far away from his hometown. How painful for him to endure those 4 Super Bowl losses. Yet the book is also written for his son, Luke as he prepares to leave the nest for college. His words are encouraging and loving and how untimely it was that Tim Russert died right after Luke graduated from college.

This book was a wonderful read. It begged to be savored as much as the Buffalo fish fries, the German food at Broadway market, or baked goods from the Quality Bakery. Yes, I do still miss Tim Russert, but am grateful that he shared a bit of his life for all of us to enjoy in this book.