You tend to get a little jaded in this business, and it takes a lot to shock an obit writer. But yesterday afternoon, when we got word that Tim Russert had died, we -- and the entire staff of the Post -- were in complete shock and disbelief.
The paper quickly mobilized, though, and Pat Sullivan of the Obits Desk was asked to contribute background information on Russert's early life for Howard Kurtz's Page 1 obituary.
Sometimes we obituary writers resent being "big-footed" on stories, but in this case Howie was the perfect person for the job -- no one knows Washington journalism better, and in 2004 he wrote the definitive profile of Russert for the Post magazine. Tom Shales, who has known Russert for years and ran into him at the airport last week, wrote a touching and deeply informed appreciation for Style.
People throughout the newsroom were both hushed and animated when word spread about Russert's unexpected death from a heart attack. Our editor, Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, was among the first to find out, and she turned around in her chair to ask who wanted to work on the obit. A colleague from another desk of the paper called in from vacation to ask me how we were handling the story. He mentioned that he had taken a class he teaches to the set of "Meet the Press," and Russert could not have been more gracious with the awestruck students.
Finally, I want to pass along something I saw from across the newsroom yesterday. Howard Kurtz appeared live on TV to discuss Russert's life and work. (We have a small studio in the newsroom for reporters to make comments about the news.) The second Howie was off the air, he sprinted back to his desk on the other side the newsroom to continue working on his obituary for the paper. That may be the ultimate tribute from one newsman to another.
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