MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The memorial service for Tim Russert took place this afternoon at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C. Some of the most influential figures in television news and in government came together to mark his life.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
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DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Guests for Tim Russert's memorial service entered to the music from his iPod, like that Joe Cocker recording. In life, Russert wore his everyman status as visibly as ball player wears a uniform. But the Kennedy Center service was by invitation only and it was just about fit for a head of state, the kind he used to torment Sunday's on NBC's "Meet the Press." Retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw set the tone for the afternoon from the start, needling the boy from working class Buffalo who made extraordinarily good, and those who gathered to mourn him.
TOM BROKAW: The powerful, the ordinary and the largest contingent of all in this room: Those who think that they should be his successor on "Meet the Press."
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FOLKENFLIK: The audience included many Russert had questioned: former President Clinton and Senator Clinton, Bob Woodward of the Watergate story fame, senators, governors, anchors like Dan Rather from rival networks, as well as his many famous and off-camera peers from NBC News. The event was televised on MSNBC. Brokaw said he and his wife took a drive a this morning by the Washington monuments.
BROKAW: We saluted Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Roosevelt. We peddled back past the Washington monument, and I thought to myself how Tim loved all of this because he came here to the nerve center of this precious republic to make a contribution in his own way. His role was to be the citizen journalist, to speak for those with no voice and no lobbyist on K Street.
FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday, there was a wake open to all. Several thousand mourners passed by Russert's coffin at his son's old private school, St. Alban's, many greeted by his widow, the Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth. President and Laura Bush stopped by early, power brokers filed through throughout the day. But so did others like Judy Rutherford, who came with her adult daughter from Alexandria, Virginia, to pay tribute.
JUDY RUTHERFORD: Well, I looked for Tim to tell me the truth. You listen to all the - right now, we're in a big political season. And until Tim spoke, I didn't really believe what anybody was saying.
FOLKENFLIK: Russert's friend Mike Barnacle, the longtime columnist and commentator, picked up Orth and son Luke at the airport last Saturday when they returned from Italy. Barnacle says he wasn't prepared for what he experienced as the public tsunami of emotion surrounding Russert's death.
MIKE BARNACLE: The sense of legitimacy that they got from him, the sense that he wasn't throwing any curve balls, that he wasn't, you know, engaging in any polemics, that he wasn't ideological and that he was asking the kinds of questions that they would want to ask whatever candidate he was talking to.
FOLKENFLIK: At the memorial, Barnacle described Russert as a fisherman who would need hand grenades to get fish out of the water. But when it came to making friends and fans, Russert's boat was filled to overflowing. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.