The crowd at Tim Russert’s funeral Wednesday would have made a great panel on his Sunday morning news show.
The two men vying to become president, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, were there, as were members of Congress, television journalists and several generations of politicians from both parties.
“It is not easy to preach a homily for Tim and to communicate the feelings we all share oncerning this remarkable man, for he was truly one of the great communicators in American society,” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., said in his homily.
Russert, the host of the Sunday-morning talk show “Meet the Press,” died Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. He also served as the Washington bureau chief for NBC News. A political insider, Russert was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington’s most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue-collar, Buffalo, N.Y., roots.
Among the dignitaries were former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
There were also enough TV journalists and political strategists to fill several political roundtables. Among the honorary pallbearers were NBC News anchor Brian Williams, “Today” show host Matt Lauer and Bryant Gumbel. Retired anchor Tom Brokaw greeted the guests, saying no house meant more to Russert than “the house of the Lord.”
The funeral service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown was private, but a loud speaker broadcast the service to about 100 onlookers standing along the tree-lined street. A man wearing a kilt played the bagpipes as the crowd arrived, and delivered a rendition of “Amazing Grace” as Russert’s casket was taken from the church.
Russert’s 22-year-old son, Luke, gave the eulogy. His mother and Russert’s widow, Maureen Orth, looked on.
“My dad was my best friend,” Luke Russert said, his voice strong and clear. “To explain my bond with my father is utterly impossible to put into words.”
Luke Russert then gave what he described as his father’s last speech.
He urged parents to hug their children, politicians to avoid “low tactics,” and journalists to practice integrity and honesty.
Luke Russert said that whenever he did well on a school assignment, his father would yell, “Yahoo! You smoked ‘em, buddy!”
He asked the crowd to imagine a special edition of “Meet the Press” this Sunday in heaven, perhaps with a debate between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, or John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater. He even suggested a talk on the need for a new political party involving Teddy Roosevelt, the former president who later ran unsuccessfully for president as a member of the Bull Moose party.
“Tim Russert led with his heart, his compassion and most of all his honor,” his son said. “I love you, dad, and in his words, let us all go get ‘em!”
An invitation-only memorial service was scheduled at the Kennedy Center later on Wednesday.