In Depth

Brokaw, Others Say Farewell to Russert

Tom Brokaw got it right.

As the first of 10 speakers at the memorial service Wednesday for Tim Russert, Mr. Brokaw promised the afternoon would be an “Irish-style” celebration with some tears, some laughs and “the occasional truth.”

Then he broke the ice by acknowledging the largest contingent of all the bold-faced contingents that filled the Kennedy Center Concert Hall: “those who think they should be his successor on ‘Meet the Press.’”

It was a home run for the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor, who had broken the news to a stunned country only last Friday that Mr. Russert had collapsed and died at age 58 that afternoon at the NBC News Washington bureau.

Permission to lighten up and enjoy was granted—which was welcome to the family, friends, colleagues and competitors, and the politicians in the crowd.

Among those politicians, former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich and Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, filing in with Republicans, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, and Democrats, including former presidential candidate John Kerry. All had survived Mr. Russert’s Sunday morning cross-examination more than once.

Former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather flew in from the Midwest; ABC’s Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer arrived from New York.

CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus led a group that included “Evening News” executive producer Rick Kaplan and anchor Katie Couric, whose NBC News career Mr. Russert had launched and championed as the Peacock Network’s Washington bureau chief in the mid-’80s.

The NBC roster was topped by parent company GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker, NBC Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol, and Telemundo President Don Browne. Mr. Browne was present and very much involved in the mid-’80s when Mr. Russert went to Washington, a career move that would lead to his becoming a larger-than-life representative of the people when the subject was politics.

Before the invitation-only memorial service started, Gerry MacLean, who did not have an invitation and whose accent spoke directly to her Boston-Irish roots, told a reporter that Mr. Russert “had the blarney in the best possible way.”

So did those whose stories filled the program, which began with music from Mr. Russert’s iPod—“You’ve Got a Friend” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”—and ended with a special message from Bruce Springsteen, who had a big fan in Mr. Russert.

The Boss played a fair acoustic version of “Thunder Road” and said of Mr. Russert and his “big Irish smile,” “We’re going to miss you.”