Friars, Colleges Mourn Death of Newsman Tim Russert

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — The recent death of “Meet the Press” TV moderator and respected journalist/author Tim Russert saddened the communities of Siena College and St. Bonaventure University,  the Province’s two colleges. Both upstate New York schools had awarded the Buffalo, N.Y., native with honorary doctorate degrees in the past few years.

Siena Memories
Russert, who died of a heart attack on June 13, delivered the baccalaureate address at Siena in 2005. The college’s Web site said, “Despite only being on campus for a few hours, he left a lasting impression on our community.”

Kevin Mackin, OFM
, president of Siena in 2005, said he remembers Russert as being very focused, hardworking and affable.

“As soon as he arrived on campus that May day, he went right into my office to work on his program for the next day,” Kevin said.

“He talked with anyone who wanted to meet him,” Kevin said. “He stopped to sign many autographs of his book.”

Kevin said that Russert participated in the liturgy, and was very concerned about protocol, asking whether he should genuflect when approaching the podium.

Linda Richardson, Siena’s vice president of academic affairs, remembered serving as Russert’s escort when he received the honorary degree. In an article titled,  “Russert Remembered by Siena Faculty,” on the  Web site of Capital News 9,  Richardson described the kind personality of Russert.

She said that he willingly took the time to meet her relatives as he arrived on campus. He also shared his philosophy about relating to people of his father’s generation.

Western New York Connection

St. Bonaventure University, approximately 70 miles south of Russert’s hometown, awarded Russert an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2001 (shown in photo).

He was recognized for his achievements and contributions as a journalist, and for his strong devotion to his family and his faith.

During his address, Russert reminisced about his Buffalo roots and called on members of the class of 2001 to succeed, but to remember the little guy along the way.

He told the graduates that he was the first to attend college in his family. Russert,  the son of a truck driver and sanitation worker who held two jobs for 37 years to support his family, encouraged the class to take on the challenges ahead. “You were born to be players in this extraordinary blessing called life … Remember the people struggling alongside you and below you.”

He told them to teach their children not only to love others, but to respect them also.

“No exercise is better for a human heart than reaching down to help another. Please build a future we can be proud of,” Russert said.

On the day Russert died,  SBU issued a statement, “The world of journalism has lost an icon and Western New York lost its greatest ambassador.” Lee Coppola, dean of SBU’s Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication,  attributed the enormous respect Russert garnered to his blue-collar Buffalo roots.

“That’s because he came from common people,” said Coppola, who presented Russert with his honorary degree in 2001. “No one ever looked at him as an erudite person.”

Growing up in South Buffalo, Russert lived 12 houses away from Bona basketball great Whitey Martin, whose retired jersey hangs in the Reilly Center Arena on campus, he even scrimmaged Bona and NBA great Bob Lanier.

St. Bonaventure flew the university flag at half-staff in honor of Russert on June 14.

Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, chief operating officer of the Washington Theological Union, a former instructor at SBU, and a native of a Buffalo suburb, said, “Tim Russert’s pride in our hometown made us proud and less apologetic for having come from an unsophisticated, poor city.”

“Tim didn’t just spout Buffalo as a decent place, but he lived Buffalo as a way of being in the world — kind, enthusiastic, faithful, and always willing to be a good neighbor to someone else. For that attribute of Tim Russert — of embodying what the Buffalo experience was/is, that was built by hard-working immigrants who knew that they were blessed — that part of Tim will be irreplaceable.”

Russert’s Legacy Strong
At the June 18 memorial service held in Washington, D.C., journalists and U.S. leaders spoke of Russert’s professionalism and love of faith and family. Some even mentioned Russert’s early support of SBU. Sr. Lucille Socciarelli, a Sister of Mercy who taught Russert in elementary school, said that as a youngster, Russert rooted for SBU while she supported the Purple  Eagles of competing Niagara University.

She added that she knows Tim is in heaven, “Where every day is Meet the Press.”

Stephen Lynch, OFM
, of Providence, wrote:  “The untimely death of Tim Russert points to the fact that in all walks of life, commitment to the truth stands as a sign that a person has chosen good over evil.  The security of human existence depends not only upon trust in God, but also upon trust in one another. One thing all human beings look for in life is someone or something in which they can place their trust. Trust is based on faith in the moral integrity, good will and honesty of others.” Click here to read an essay written by Steven.

Phil Jacobs, a member of the Province’s Communications Office staff, graduated from Russert’s alma mater, John Carroll University. Jacobs was on campus for an alumni reunion last week and was able to attend a memorial service that highlighted both Russert and an influential JCU president who died not long before the man who developed his journalism skills as a college student in the early 70s. Click here to read Jacobs’ on campus insight.

Jocelyn Thomas is Director of Communications for the Province.