Walter Cronkite was remembered as a great newsman, sailor, friend and father during Thursday’s funeral for the CBS anchor.
“I was often asked, what he’s really like? And I would always answer, `He’s just the way you hope he is,’” said Mike Ashford, a Cronkite friend of more than 30 years and one of the speakers.
Another speaker, longtime CBS newsman and “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney, recalled meeting Cronkite when they both were in England covering World War II.
“You get to know someone pretty well in a war,” said Rooney.
“I just feel so terrible about Walter’s death that I can hardly say anything,” he admitted, and excused himself.
The remarkably intimate, even homey ceremony was witnessed by a near-capacity crowd at the enormous St. Bartholomew’s Church in midtown Manhattan, where the Cronkite family has worshipped for years.
Broadcast journalists — co-workers, competitors, successors — were on hand, including Connie Chung, Bob Schieffer, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Charles Gibson, Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, Morley Safer and Meredith Vieira. Comedians-actors Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller were also in attendance.
But there was also room for members of the public to pay their respects.
James Huntsburg and his wife, Sylvia, visiting from Canada, had heard about the ceremony. Admitted to the sanctuary, they took their place in one of the pews.
Huntsburg said he grew up watching Cronkite, who, he said, “touched me.”
When he heard of Cronkite’s death last Friday at 92, Huntsburg and his wife hadn’t yet left from their home near Toronto for their Manhattan vacation.
“I feel blessed to be here,” he said, visibly moved.
For his reporting, Cronkite came to be called “the most trusted man in America” and was widely considered the premier TV journalist of his time. He anchored “The CBS Evening News” from 1962 until 1981.
Before the service, admirers lingered outside the church where news vans lined the curb.
Flowers arrived from Yoko Ono, who wrote: “Walter, my son Sean and I will always remember you! for your kind word to us. You will be missed. With love, Yoko Ono Lennon.”
During the service, St. Bartholomew’s Choir sang. A jazz band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
And Cronkite friend (and veteran TV producer) Bill Harbach read the John Masefield poem, addressing it to Cronkite: “YOU must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky …”
Sanford Socolow shared anecdotes from his many years working with Cronkite as a producer.
“Once, he had this bizarre idea that he would ad-lib the newscast without a script,” Socolow recalled. As Cronkite’s cue to roll each film clip, he would gently brush his nose with his hand.
“It was utter chaos,” said Socolow. “It lasted for two days.”
Chip Cronkite affectionately gave thanks to his father for many things.
“Thanks for rushing to the side of the boat when a boom knocked me overboard. You stood there ready to jump in after me, and then were glad you didn’t have to. Thanks for getting ready to take out my appendix yourself with a sharpened spoon on the African plains two days’ drive for a hospital. That time I was glad you didn’t have to.”
A separate memorial will be held within the next few weeks at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Cronkite is to be cremated and his remains buried next to his wife, Betsy, in the family plot at a cemetery in Kansas City, Mo.