Farewell Peter

There has been much written about Peter Jennings since his passing, but I found this personal farewill by John Leo interesting and somewhat endearing…

Farewell Peter…

John Leo (Townhall.com)

Peter Jennings liked to collect ties. He especially liked to collect them from the necks of friends. His neckwear acquisition method was simple. He would praise your tie, over and over, until you caught on and handed it over. He was so relentless about this that I would occasionally ask my wife for adviceshall I wear this tie to dinner with Jennings or just wrap it and hand it to him on the way in? This made many Jennings broadcast exercises in nostalgia. You never knew when one of your old ties would show and trigger memories of the good old days when you used to own it yourself. The downside was that if Peter didn’t make a move on your tie, you wondered what was wrong with it.

For his fiftieth birthday, I prepared a slide show that included embarrassing moments of his career, from emceeing the Miss Canada contest to his memorable on-air description of Queen Elizabeth’s carriage attendants ("the footmen resplendent in their gold and scarlet behind.") But the biggest laugh by far was the slide of Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee that year, running after Peter, who was calmly making off with the poor man’s tie. The explosion of laughter showed that I was hardly the only neckwear victim in his life. Who knew?

Linda Franke, a mutual friend, says the basic truth about Peter is that he was a regular guy. When he phoned, there never was as assistant telling you to please hold for Mr. Jennings. He phoned himself, often during commercials on his broadcast, sometimes to talk about the weekend, some-times (I think) to make sure you were watching. He occasionally carried regular guyhood to extremes. Linda spotted him once at the local market carrying the groceries of one senior citizen after another to his or her car.

When he and his wife Kayce gave their Christmas carols party each year in the Hamptons, the guests would always include local people he knew and cared about, including the carpenter, the plumber and lawn man. This concern and interest in people meant you could never talk to him in a cabhe would be peppering the cabbie with questions about his life, the village he came from, when his family would join him in America and whether he would become an American citizen. He was a true democrat. Everybody, regardless of status, was his equal. (Canadian born Jennnings himself became an American citizen not so long ago and was very proud of that and his new country, as well as of his Canadian heritage.)

Like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, he did a tremendous amount of charity work, including an annual jazz concert at his home on behalf of the local day care center. Wynton Marsalis would come out, and so did many of the famous old lions of jazz. When the great bass player Percy Heath died, Peter was too sick to deliver a eulogy, so Linda did it for him at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. At Peter’s 67th and last birthday three weeks ago, many of the jazz men made the trek out to the Hamptons, on their own dime, to say goodbye.

Peter read my column and sometimes wanted to discuss it in detail. This was not entirely out of friendship. As an enormously curious man, he was interested in how people could start from principles different from his own, and work out an argument that he found reasonable, if not compelling. He was a close follower of William Safire’s column, apparently for the same reason.

In recent years, many conservatives got on his case and accused him of slanting stories. (However, Americans from both sides of the aisle seem to miss him). The din subsides somewhat when Dan Rather became the primary target and when Jennings expressed outrage, during an interview, that Michael Moore had called President Bush "a deserter" for cutting corners on his national guard service. Sometimes, I think, the conventional newsroom smog drifted into ABC news stories, but Peter always worked hard to be fair. On the rare occasions I complained to him about media bias, Peter immediately ordered up a story that included conservative objections to mainstream reports.

Of all his accomplishments, I admired Peter most for his dramatic comeback. He was pretty much laughed out of town in the mid-Sixties as a know-nothing pretty-boy anchor at ABC when he nor his network’s news operation were taken seriously. To reclaim the same job a generation later was an outstanding achievement. He was a great reporter and a very good man. I consider myself very lucky to have known him. Rest in peace…Peter

About these ads

About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place".
This entry was posted in News and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s