Jews sit shiva when a loved one dies. Since I'm also half Irish, maybe I'm permitted to explain that shiva is like an Irish wake, with more food than drinking. And the morning after Dan Schorr's death, I want to tell some funny stories about him.
I am glad that the man so famous for winding up on Richard Nixon's White House enemies' list, and giving Nikita Khrushchev no quarter in an interview, was also revealed on this show as playful, even whimsical, and kind.
He sang in the studio before we went on: German opera to Marx Brothers nonsense songs, and he laughed when our engineers covered their ears and clipped his mic.
He wrote notes. In a time when people thumb short, ill-spelled text messages for most every major life event, Dan took to his typewriter and clacked out condolence notes when one of us on staff lost a parent, or notes of approval when he heard a story he liked.
One of NPR's foreign correspondents remembers how much it meant for her to open an envelope in a far-off place and read a short, encouraging note from Dan Schorr. He'd been posted overseas, in Cold War Moscow and Berlin, in the days before e-mail and knew how much it meant to get a note that said, "We're listening."
But even after he had to use a walker to get into our studio, Dan scrapped for airtime. With the wiles of a veteran correspondent and the street smarts of his Bronx youth, Dan competed for every single second. He called once when 15 seconds of one of his pieces had to be cut.
"News happened, Dan," I told him. "We had to make room. Look, my stuff gets trimmed all the time. It's just the business, Dan."
"I admire your attitude," Dan said. "I don't share it, but I admire it."
One day we all saw a man in a fine pinstripe suit in Dan's office, wearing a ponytail that nearly reached the floor.
"Oh, Scott," Dan said with elaborate composure. "You know Frank Zappa."
He had come to ask Dan to join him and his band, the Mothers of Invention, on a project. We rushed into Dan's office as soon as Zappa's ponytail turned the corner.
"Frank's a highly intelligent man," Dan told us. "Highly intelligent."
"Well, yes," we said. "Have you heard his music?"
"Not yet," said Dan. "He gave me his CDs. I might listen to one tonight."
"Dan, if you haven't heard Frank Zappa's music, how do you know that he's highly intelligent?"
Dan twinkled and said, "Oh — because he came to ask me for advice."
Broadcasting is a business that causes a lot of good people to burn out. But for almost a century, Dan Schorr blazed: with fire and warmth. How he shined.