Thursday, July 23, 2009
A Westporter’s View: Final Farewell to Walter Cronkite
By Jeffrey MayerSpecial to WestportNow
New York—-More than a thousand family members, friends, colleagues and fans filled St. Bartholomew’s Church on New York’s Park Avenue today for the funeral service of veteran CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite.
Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff, a former CBS News correspondent, chats with Westporter Jeffrey Mayer outside St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan today before the funeral for Walter Cronkite. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Among those occupying a coveted front of the church spot was Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff, a former CBS News correspondent and Cronkite colleague.
The crowd began to gather before 1 p.m. outside the ornate Romanesque church as photographers and TV cameramen stood behind police barricades.
This reporter spotted Joseloff in the crowd and joined him as the former Cronkite writer met old friends and colleagues and caught up on the lives of CBS alumni.
As he left one group, I overheard someone say, “Gordon’s now the mayor of Westport, Connecticut, can you imagine?”
About 1:30 p.m., the mourners passed the elaborate wooden doors and were greeted by the Rev. William McD. Tully, the principal rector of the church who officiated as the celebrant. He wore a white robe and a warm smile and shook the hand of each attendee.
At the front of the apse, an efficient CBS official asked if visitors were “CBS or family.”
Waler Cronkite’s casket is carried out of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Joseloff proceeded into the CBS seats while this reporter took a seat on the aisle a few rows behind.
Seated in a section on the side with partial viewing were NBC “Today Show’s” Matt Lauer and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric.
Meredith Vieira, Lauer’s co-host on “Today” and a former CBS News correspondent, arrived late with husband Richard Cohen a former CBS News producer. She was dressed in black and red pumps, and walking hurriedly, took a seat behind her colleagues.
Unlike most of the attendees who were smiling and enjoying the CBS reunion, Vieira wore a pained and mournful expression.
Ann Curry of NBC’s “Today Show” also arrived late and made a diva-like appearance, smiling and greeting people in the aisle and then standing up to greet visitors as they walked by.
NBC “Today Show” and former CBS News Correspondent Meredith Vieira enters St. Bartholomew’s Church today for Walter Cronkite’s funeral. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Lauer stood up for former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw but otherwise ignored the visitors.
Diane Sawyer, now of ABC News and formerly with CBS News, arrived with her husband, producer and director Mike Nichols. A stooped Andy Rooney, the CBS News “60 Minutes” commentator, made his way carefully down the aisle with a bent pine wood cane that looked like he carved it himself.
Comedian and actor Jerry Stiller sat in front of this reporter. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, a hearing aide tucked snuggly behind his left ear, sat in front of Stiller.
His hair close cropped and dressed in a pin striped suit, Rather was accompanied by his wife Jean whom he held warmly at times. Stiller leaned forward to tap Rather warmly on the shoulder.
Walter Cronkite’s funeral in mid-town Manhattan today attracted intense media coverage as well as interest of passersby. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Connie Chung, formerly of CBS News and NBC News, was on the aisle and had a few chats with visitors. She spent a half hour or so chatting with Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post TV critic, author and host of the weekly CNN show on the press.
The service began with organ music by Bach and some hymns, after which members of the family, including daughter Kathleen and a grandson, read readings from scripture.
In tribute to the devoted sailor, many of the passages and songs referred to the water. The St. Bart’s choir sang “Lacrimosa” from a Mozart requiem and later “Finlandia,” a beautiful hymn.
Andy Rooney got up to speak. He was so emotional he could only get out a few words. He recalled how he had met Cronkite during the Second World War while Conkite reported for United Press and Rooney for Stars and Stripes.
CBS News commentator Andy Rooney arrived at the Cronkite funeral service today accompanied by wife Margie and son Brian, an ABC News correspondent. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
“In those days the military would tell us when there would be a raid,” he said, “unlike today when they don’t even tell you after there has been a raid.”
He said they’d make their way out to the airfields and then file their stories together.
“You get to know someone real well in a war,” he said. “He was a really good friend.” He then choked up and said “Please forgive me” as he turned to sit down.
Sanford Socolow, one of Cronkite’s producers, told some stories about the man, a little more volatile than the unflappable image he has acquired.
He said that although Cronkite timed his stories carefully, he always ran over so the studio adopted a “secret number” that they never shared with him, the actual number of minutes of air time that he had.
“ABC World News Tonight” anchor Charles Gibson leaves today’s funeral service for Walter Cronkite with ABC News Correspondent Barbara Walters on his arm. Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Then they would subtract a few minutes from the number so that when he went live he would come in on time.
Socolow also recounted how Cronkite once negotiated for three months vacation and the CBS execs were upset, afraid ratings would drop when he was off air. One of the producers suggested he rename his boat “Assignment” so they could report during his vacations, “Walter is on Assignment.”
At the end of the service Joseloff congratulated Socolow on his eulogy. Socolow replied, “You should see what I left out.”
A dear friend and sailng buddy, Mike Ashford, told a few sailing stories, ending with a farewell to the “Commodore” that left not a dry eye in the house.
Cronkite’s son Chip delivered a heartfelt statement, recalling how his father would pass his mother Betsy in the halls of their East Side brownstone saying, “Shall we dance?” before he twirled her around.
Former NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw and wife Meredith chat with the Rev. William McD. Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church before Walter Cronkite’s funeral today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
The Rev. Tully gave a brief homily. He said that Cronkite was, “in that New York religious expression, a real Mensch.”
Another sailing friend, Bill Harbach, a writer with the Steve Allen show, told of meeting Walter 30 years ago under the piano at a late night party. He read John Masefield’s “Sea-Fever,” changing the words as he said he did at Cronkite’s bedside a few days ago: “You must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…”
The service ended with the St. Bart’s choir and a Dixieland jazz band playing “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
The rollicking saxophone, trumpet, trombonist and base fiddler followed the casket down the aisle and continued playing at the rear of the church.
Former Senator George McGovern strolled forward looking for members of the family. He met Rather who said, “Thank you for your years of service to our country.” I shook McGovern’s and and said I had last met him when he was nominated in 1972.
Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff (r, yellow tie) leaves St. Bartholomew’s Church today following the funeral service for Walter Cronkite. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
“If we had only picked another vice president, we could have come close,” he said. Thirty-seven years later and he’s still reliving the Eagleton nomination!
Charles Gibson, the ABC News anchor, walked up and introduced himself to the senator as did colleague Barbara Walters. “You look great,” McGovern said to Walters. “You haven’t aged.” Walters replied, “You look great too!”
Outside the church a fellow in a Vietnam War-era denim army jacket stopped me.
“Love that shirt and tie,” he said. “I wore the tie for Walter,” I said, pointing to the sailboat print. “Dapper, man,” he said.
More than a thousand persons attended the Cronkite funeral at St. Bartholomew’s Church. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) CBS News photo
On the sidewalk, reporters besieged Rather in the rain. He took their questions graciously, turning to sign one young man’s program.
He warmly greeted Joseloff who had been standing nearby, chatting with him for a few moments, and then walked off to his car, pulling out an umbrella and holding it over his wife’s head.
Many of Cronkite’s family and colleagues then adjourned to the nearby St. Bart’s restaurant and café adjoining the church, as some of them raised a toast to their departed colleague.
Editor’s note: Jeffrey Mayer is chair of Westport’s Board of Finance and a former part-time correspondent for United Press International.
Comments: Comment Policy
Very nice account by Jeffrey Mayer and great photos as usual by Dave Matlow. My compliments.
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Note: WestportNow Publisher Gordon F. Joseloff is also First Selectman of Westport