Monday, June 16, 2008

tim russert connects to home

NBC’s Host of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, died Friday, leaving a gaping hole in the country’s coverage of politics and a huge gap in our connection to home.

As Western New York transplants in Lansing, Mich., my husband and I often look for connection to home.

We couldn’t find it in the food: the chicken wings and pizza out here pale in comparison to the Anchor Bar (Buffalo) and Pontillo’s (Batavia). There’s no such thing as salt potatoes in Michigan, and I grew tired of having to explain them to the grocers.

With no family within an hour’s drive, we continued to search for reminders of the safe, friendly (and fattening) world we left 10 years ago.

Who knew it would come at 9 a.m. every Sunday morning?

Our connection to Tim Russert goes way beyond our Buffalo roots and chicken wings, though. He was a homegrown boy gone very good and never forgot who he was. Russert made it easy for us to do the same.

I grew up on Russert. I became a journalist because of people like him. I admired his dedication and his ability to cut through the clutter of sound bites and get the whole story. I admired his hard working style. I admired his toughness and his sense of fair play.

As an Irish Catholic kid from Western New York, it’s not always easy to find someone with whom you relate so closely. One of the things I’ve always loved about Tim Russert is that he looks the part.

He actually looks like he’s from WNY. Let’s get real, Tim Russert didn’t stop traffic with his million dollar looks. But his classic WNY looks and love for his hometown endeared him to thousands of Western New Yorkers.

You would be hard-pressed to find an Irish Catholic family in Buffalo without a copy of Big Russ & Me. Who didn’t buy that book for their dad on Father’s Day?

We have always enjoyed watching Russert on Meet the Press, but it was always more than watching a politician squirm or campaign managers square off. It was about his technique, his preparation and his complete dedication to his craft. It was about my husband and I saying to each other, “Watch Russert take this guy down,” or “Listen, he’s asking the right questions.”

I joke that sometimes the show was so engaging that Russert was our reason for missing Mass on Sunday … I’m sure he never would have appreciated that, though, and neither will my mother.

The truth is Tim Russert taught through his interviews. He took the time to explain the systems and how they worked. In the 20 years that I’ve been able to vote I have often looked to Russert’s interviews to help guide my way. He’s taught thousands of people the same thing.

What’s more, though, is that for the decade that we have lived away from home, Tim Russert has been our weekly connection to home.

Whether it’s “Go Bills, squish the fish,” or a warm wish of Happy Dad’s Day to Big Russ, at our house we’ve lost more than a television host: We’ve lost a lifeline to home.

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