Bernard Shaw Remembers Walter Cronkite

Legendary journalist and former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite died Friday at age 92. Once named the "most trusted man in America," Cronkite delivered the news of momentous events such as the assassinations of President Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But he was also a mentor to many younger journalists, including former CNN news anchor Bernard Shaw.

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, as authorities uncover a shocking story about greed and disrespect at an historic African-American cemetery in Chicago, we talk about the cultural importance of these burial grounds and what's made so many of them vulnerable to neglect.

But first, the death of legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite on Friday. For many Americans, it was like a death in the family. During some of the most soaring and tragic moments of contemporary history, a generation counted on his voice to tell them exactly how it was, from the Apollo moon walk celebrated today to the civil rights march on Selma to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

(Soundbite of archival audio)

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Anchor, CBS News): Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was standing on the balcony of his second-floor hotel room tonight when, according to a companion, a shot was fired from across the street.

MARTIN: Clearly for many journalists, Cronkite was a personal idol and hero, but perhaps less well-known was how much Cronkite embraced the role and served as a mentor to rookie and aspiring reporters. One of them was Bernard Shaw. Shaw served as a top anchor at CNN for more than two decades. During his award-winning career, he covered the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the bombing runs of the first Gulf War. He was one of the last Western reporters to interview Saddam Hussein.

Shaw was known for the same unflappable style Cronkite carried at the anchor desk. But back in 1961, Shaw could barely contain himself when he got the chance to meet Walter Cronkite. In November of 2007, he shared that moment with me on our program. Here's what he said.

Mr. BERNARD SHAW (Former Anchor, CNN): Well, along with growing up, Cronkite also was an idol of mine. And I went into the Marine Corps, and I was based in Hawaii for two years, on Oahu, and one morning, I was reading the local newspaper there in the morning, and I saw this picture of Walter and his wife, Betsy. And the caption was: Walter Cronkite is in the island. He's staying at the Reef Hotel on Waikiki. Well, that was all I needed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAW: So I called the hotel 34 times.

MARTIN: You remember that you called 34 times?

Mr. SHAW: Yes, 34 times and left 34 messages over two days and got no response. And then one day, I came back from work, and there was this message: Walter Cronkite called. Please call him. And I called him right away, and he said, I can see you for 15 minutes in the lobby at the hotel when I come back from another island. So I put on my nicely pressed Marine Corps tropical uniform and went down there and waited. One hour passed, two hours passed, and then I hear this voice: Gee, Sergeant, I hope I haven't been keeping you waiting. Well, he had promoted me from corporal to sergeant on the spot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAW: I turned around, and there he was with his wife. He said: Well, come on upstairs. And Betsy looked at him, as if to say, don't even try it. She wanted to go upstairs, and we sat in the lobby. Fifteen minutes lasted, and then it was 20 minutes, then it was 40 minutes, and I said, Mr. Cronkite, I've taken up enough of your time. This has been my banquet. You're going to one tonight. Thank you very much, and it was a very uplifting and a very inspiring conversation.

MARTIN: And a pivotal one. Bernard Shaw eventually became a correspondent for CBS News, and Walter Cronkite welcomed him there with a personal letter. Shaw remained at the network for seven years before jumping to CNN. Those were his reflections on meeting anchorman Walter Cronkite. Cronkite died in his New York City home on Friday after a long illness. He was 92.

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