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 CNS Story:

RUSSERT Jun-17-2004 (880 words) With photo to come. xxxn

Russert writes about lessons from his father, lessons for his own son

By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just in time for Father's Day, Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," has written a memoir about the lessons he has learned in life from his father and the lessons he hopes to pass on to his son.

"I wrote the book to affirm my dad's life," Russert said in a June 7 telephone interview with the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. He was in California to promote his best-selling book, "Big Russ & Me," published by Miramax.

"He was born during the Depression. He left school in the 10th grade to serve in World War II," he added.

The television journalist noted that his father survived a terrible plane crash during the war, then returned to the Buffalo area to support his family, which grew to include four children. He held down two full-time jobs for 30 years, working with the Sanitation Department and driving a newspaper delivery truck.

"I grew up in a south Buffalo Irish Catholic neighborhood. Everybody was Catholic," Russert remembered. "The reason (his dad) worked two jobs was to send his four kids to parochial school."

Russert has the same name as his father, so over the years he began calling him "Big Russ."

The veteran TV journalist, who has interviewed presidents and heads of state, opens the book by noting that he was once asked whom he would most like to interview, and he said his dad.

In the book, Russert paints a vivid portrait of his father, a self-effacing, hard-working man.

"The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get. Hardly a day goes by when I don't remember or rely on something that Big Russ taught me," Russert writes in the introduction.

Interviewing "Big Russ" must have been a tough task because it seems clear that the elder Timothy Russert intensely dislikes blowing his own horn.

In response to a question about his service during World War II, "Big Russ" said, "Everybody did their job, and I did mine."

Over a period of years, Russert gradually learned of his father's contribution to the war effort as a parachute rigger for the Army Air Force.

Russert's own Catholic faith plays a central part in his book, as it does in his life. He and his wife, writer Maureen Orth, and their son, Luke, are members of Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown.

"Religion was everywhere in our lives -- not just in church or in school, but at home, too," Russert writes of his childhood. He said he and his three sisters were taught to pray each night before falling asleep and to get up for Mass each Sunday.

"Religion was serious business. The priests and nuns impressed upon us the idea that Christmas meant more than toys and that Easter went beyond candy," he writes.

Faith is also a topic Russert discusses in an appearance on "Personally Speaking," a show produced by the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign and hosted by Msgr. Jim Lisante. The show was distributed to NBC affiliate stations June 9. (Check local listings for air dates.)

In the book, Russert pays tribute to teachers who played a major role in his life, especially the Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits. The taught him to read and write, but also taught him right from wrong, he said.

Families, neighbors and teachers had their own "neighborhood watch" program in those days, to keep kids on the right path, Russert said. "Everybody was consistent about teaching true lessons of life."

At St. Bonaventure School, Mercy Sister Mary Lucille Socciarelli inadvertently got Russert started on his career in journalism when he was in the seventh grade.

"Sister Lucille took me aside and said, 'Timmy, we have to find a way to channel your excessive energy. I'm starting a new school newspaper, and you're going to be the editor."

His school paper, the Bonette was printed on a mimeograph machine, but the students put out a special edition following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In November 1963, Russert learned that "no publication is too small to have an impact."

One of Russert's mentors was New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom the future newsman served as a top aide. Russert was a pallbearer at the senator's funeral.

He said Moynihan "taught me to respect true intelligence, ask good questions and disagree agreeably," he writes.

Russert closes the book with an open letter to his own son, Luke, who will be a freshman at Boston College this fall.

"You do, however, owe this world something," Russert writes. "To live a good and decent and meaningful life would be the ultimate affirmation of Grandpa's lessons and values."

The journalist said he has been gratified to hear from readers of his book who have told him that it has reminded them of the lasting lessons their own fathers taught them.

A quiet man from Buffalo who drove a trash truck and delivered newspapers is touching many lives across the country, and that means a lot to his son.

"The lessons Big Russ taught me in the '50s and '60s are just as applicable in the 21st century," Russert said.


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