In early 1982, my boss on Capitol Hill, New Mexico Congressman Manuel Lujan Jr., and I attended a reception at the Monocle on the Senate side of the Hill. Afterwards, we stopped for a drink at the bar where Lujan warmly greeted Sen. Daniel Patrick Monyihan of New York. Seated with Moynihan was a big beefy guy with a broad grin.
"Hi," he said. "I’m Tim Russert."
At the time, Russert served as Moynihan’s chief of staff. While our bosses discussed legislation, Russert and I talked politics. He was gregarious and friendly and obviously loved both politics and his life. We exchanged business cards and went our separate ways.
Russert left Moynihan that year and went to work for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. A couple of years later, he moved to NBC News and then took over as host of Meet the Press. I sent him a card and congratulated him on "leaving the dark side of politics and getting a real job." He responded with a nice thank you note and said "let’s get together sometime."
We never did. I also left the political world and returned to journalism. We exchanged emails and talked on the phone from time to time and one of us always promised to call the other about getting together for lunch. In 1995, he asked if I was interested in appearing on Meet the Press to discuss the role of political news sites. I said no. He never asked again. We spoke, periodically, on the phone or via email. His last call came this year, just before the Virginia Democratic Primay.
"Hey," he said. "what do you hear? How will Obama do down where you live?"
I told him I thought Obama would surprise people down here. As it it turned out, Obama carried Floyd County, Henry County and some other areas of Southwestern Virginia.
On Friday, while working on a project in Johns Creek, GA, I glanced at my Blackberry when it vibrated on the table with a "breaking news" email from CNN. It read:
"NBC Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, dies of heart attack at age 58."
I couldn’t believe it. Russert was so full of life, so happy — the Energizer Bunny of political news reporters. His passion for life was infectious.
But that same passion probably contributed to his death. He pushed himself relentlessly, often to exhaustion. He had a heart condition and took medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol. He needed to exercise more. After he collapsed and died at the NBC News Studios in Washington Friday, an autopsy found an enlarged heart and plaque in his arteries.
Tim Russert’s love of life and family should serve as an inspiration to us all. His death must also serve as a reminder that life is fragile and our time on this earth is limited. We should make wise use of that time.