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Life Lessons From Tim Russert


One of the Family
Lessons Learned
A Lasting Legacy

“Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” This quote by Angelique Arnauld sums up neatly everything I want to say in this editorial about Tim Russert and what his legacy can teach us. But as was witnessed by the hours of television tributes following his death, Russert deserves much more than a one-line sendoff.

When Russert, NBC News Washington bureau chief and the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, died from a heart attack four months ago, the country was stunned. Tributes swamped the airwaves, recalling Russert as a wonderful father, husband, son, colleague and reporter.

Words like integrity, fair, tough, loving and devoted were repeated over and over again by friends and co-workers. It was the type of remembrance for which we all hope, but all too often fail to achieve.


While Russert’s legacy is one which speaks to all of us, I think for those of us in the Catholic press, his death hit particularly close to home. In many ways, he was one of us. We too are journalists, Catholics, parents, children. In fact, in October 1994, this magazine featured Russert in a cover story by Jim Arnold.

Every day, we also strive to walk that line between reporter and believer. It is a constant dance among informing, debating and believing. Sometimes those lines are not clearly defined, leaving us one step away from a crisis of faith.

But they are also the lines that each of us walk every day as Catholics. It is the dance between faith and ordinary life. Some, like Russert, seem to walk that line effortlessly. Others struggle. How do we meld what we believe into the world around us?

In the days following his death and throughout the following weeks, a few major themes seemed to emerge whenever people spoke of Russert. They were not only themes that encompassed his life, but also ones we can all carry into our lives. Those themes are his legacy.

Be prepared. Guests on Meet the Press knew that Russert was going to come into interviews well prepared and hold their feet to the fire on the issues. It was one of the things for which he was renowned.

After appearing on Meet the Press in 2006, Republican presidential candidate John McCain ended their interview on the Iraq war by telling Russert, “I haven’t had so much fun since my last interrogation.”

One of this magazine’s goals is to help our readers be informed Catholics. And while not every article, column or editorial we print will appeal to everyone, it’s our job to try to present issues that affect Catholics and society.

On the flip side, we must all be willing to educate ourselves in our faith. Sometimes that means listening to voices from all sides of an issue, whether we agree or not.

Be informed. Few of us can forget Russert’s stripped-down explanations and dry-eraseboard demonstrations during the 2004 election. Remember him scribbling “Florida! Florida! Florida!” during the election?

It is in that same spirit that I sit every November in the press room at the meeting of the U.S. bishops, so that I can report back what is going on within the Church. It is also why this magazine covers topics such as the clergy sex-abuse crisis, the election of Pope Benedict XVI or the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Bible. Politics was Russert’s beat; the Church is ours.

Keep the faith. When Russert’s son, Luke, was born, Tim promised God that he would never miss Sunday Mass if his son was born healthy. It is a promise he kept. Throughout his career, Russert wore his faith proudly.

In fact, just before he died, Russert, his wife, Maureen Orth, and son, Luke, were in Rome celebrating Luke’s college graduation. While they were there they had lunch with Cardinal John Foley, who had known Tim for years. After hearing of Russert’s death, Cardinal Foley, who baptized Luke 22 years ago, said Tim Russert “never tried to hide his faith but never forced it on anybody either.”

In 2005, the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals honored Russert with the Gabriel Personal Achievement Award. In presenting him with the award, the academy said that he exemplified the essence of the award. And few interviews passed without Russert mentioning his Jesuit education or Sister Mary Lucille Socciarelli, R.S.M., who first started Russert on his path to journalism.

All of this raises various questions for us: Do we wear our faith proudly? In what ways do we embody and live our faith?

During Russert’s funeral Mass on June 18, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., said, “All that remains is to say thank you to the good and gracious God who gave us Tim Russert for 58 years and to pray that the beloved anchor of Meet the Press is now sitting at the large table of the Lord to begin a conversation which will last forever.”

As we move closer to the election season that Tim Russert held so dear, it is a perfect time for us and our readers to reflect on these lessons from Russert’s life, and try to put them into action. That would be the most fitting tribute of all.—S.H.B.

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