It's still hard for me to understand how someone so robust and vital as Tim Russert could be taken so suddenly. And it's even harder considering that I spent such a stimulating and engaging hour with him shortly before he died.
I had admired Tim for years before I ever knew him personally. As moderator of "Meet the Press" since 1991, he cut a very large swath through our common profession of political journalism. But I began to see him often once I gravitated toward television in addition to my newspaper work, and especially after he started inviting me onto the "Meet the Press" journalists roundtables beginning in 2004.
This spring the book I wrote with Jerry Seib, Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power, was published. As with many authors, our book marketing rounds took us to Tim's hour-long cable interview show on MSNBC. It thrilled our publisher, Random House, when he agreed to interview us, since his show is very popular among book-buyers.
I arrived a few minutes late for the scheduled 9:15 am taping at NBC studios; Tim was already on set with Jerry. He greeted me with a smile and a cry of "Author!", his preferred nickname for me since the book came out.
We had a marvelous conversation about our book. He had clearly read it, and noted that several characters in the book had been colleagues of his when he worked on the staff of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. He asked insightful questions that linked our analysis to events in the 2008 campaign. His performance was all the more impressive considering that he had just arrived the night before from a family trip to Rome, the sort of regimen that would exhaust anyone.
Tim knew that very few authors enjoyed the sort of success he'd had with his books about his dad, Big Russ, and fatherhood. After the taping was done, he asked us sympathetically how the book sales were going. When we indicated they were so-so, he smiled and called out a salesman's exhortation: "Willy Loman!"
As we walked out of the NBC Washington Bureau, I told Jerry I thought it was the best interview we'd had on our entire book tour; Tim's passion for politics helped to bring out ours. Jerry noted that he thought Tim might not be feeling well after his travel home from Europe. I thought nothing of it.
When another journalist emailed me a few hours later about a rumor that Tim had been stricken, it sounded silly--I had just left him. But indeed he was gone. It's such a terrible loss for his wife Maureen and son Luke, for NBC and for all of journalism. May the rest of us strive to emulate the same work ethic, insight, love of subject and service to his audience that Tim Russert displayed up to last day of his life.