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Ed Bradley in Full

Nov 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

All of the circles Ed Bradley moved in and all of the families he built came together last week to pay tribute to a journalist they admired and a man they loved.

The mammoth and majestic Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was filled to the balcony with a mix of people who reflected both the “60 Minutes” correspondent who did stories about the big (international criminals and stars) and the little (a rare woodpecker) and the urbane, humane man who hobnobbed with some very famous people (Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Vernon Jordan, Paul Simon attended the memorial; Bill Cosby, in the ever-present dark glasses, spoke) but who never forgot the shoeshine man who worked for decades at CBS News.

Mr. Bradley died of leukemia Nov. 9 at age 65.

Some of the people who were at his hospital bedside before most people knew the leukemia had recurred contributed to the memorial that was part aural history, part concert and all-powerful.

Mayor of Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett, in a suit but no tie, and Allen Toussaint, in a suit, white socks and sandals, teamed up on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” Mr. Buffett said he was there at Mr. Bradley’s first and last New Orleans Jazz Festivals.

Jazz master Wynton Marsalis and clarinetist Victor Goines, with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, did a version of Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” that reverberated in the heart even before it ended in the familiar funeral march cadence.

The ReBirth Brass Band began and ended the morning with a New Orleans jazz funeral flourish.

The speakers told stories that most people in the crowd didn’t know but that reflected Mr. Bradley’s way with and compassion for people.

Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer told about his early experience with Mr. Bradley, who in 1967 was a WCBS-AM radio correspondent. He noticed that the entry-level Mr. Stringer had on mismatched shoes and told everybody about it that day and for years after. “He made me belong,” said Mr. Stringer. He would become Mr. Bradley’s boss and producer and would, he said he was revealing for the first time, ship the correspondent off in a cigarette boat to Cuba-where he would be arrested and then escape in the same boat, only to have it break down, leaving Mr. Bradley adrift and in need of a rescue.

When former President Clinton made his unannounced appearance (“it was the only way I could catch him unprepared”), he said he knew he had made it in national politics when Mr. Bradley wanted to interview him. The stem-winding Mr. Clinton had been governor of Arkansas, whose swamps were home to the ivory-billed woodpecker that Mr. Bradley reported on.

A sextet of “60 Minutes” producers who had collaborated with Mr. Bradley remembered him as a man who recorded one last narrative 12 days before he died; who was a personal hero; who was influenced but not defined by his heritage; who gave nicknames to everyone, including himself; who could entrust himself to their ideas; and who could get their latest romantic traumas out of them as easily as got truths from his subjects.

Mr. Cosby said Mr. Bradley had called himself “Moon,” among other things, at Cheyney State College near his home town of Philadelphia. “Back in those days he was very light,” said Mr. Cosby, who addressed the subject of race with a comedian’s hard edge.

There was the sister-in-law Mr. Bradley called Natoosh, who spoke stirringly for her sister Patricia Blanchet, whom Mr. Bradley had known for 12 years and married two years ago.

And there was, struggling heroically against and through tears, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalism trailblazer herself and now out of Africa, remembering how they had come onto the scene together at “the dawning of the age of Aquarius.”

“We were young,” she said. “We thought we were gifted and black.”

And though Ms. Hunter-Gault described Mr. Bradley as “often unhappy” with the direction he saw his profession taking in recent years, she said: “The path Ed lit must not go dark.”

She urged young journalists of color going into TV journalism, as Mr. Bradley’s godson Cordell Whitlock has done in local television, to get out from behind the anchor desk.

“You’ve got to put on your traveling shoes,” she said. “You’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”