Walter Cronkite was remembered Thursday as a great journalist, sailor, friend and father during services that, despite the grandeur of the setting, felt remarkably comfortable — like the man.
NEW YORK (AP) — Walter Cronkite was remembered as a great journalist, sailor, friend and father during services that, despite the grandeur of the setting, felt remarkably comfortable — like the man.
“I was often asked, ‘What he’s really like?’ And I would always answer, ‘He’s just the way you hope he is,'” said Mike Ashford, a sailing comrade of more than 30 years and one of the speakers at Thursday’s funeral.
Another speaker, longtime CBS newsman and “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney, recalled meeting Cronkite when they both were in England covering World War II.
“You get to know someone pretty well in a war,” said Rooney, describing Cronkite as “such a good friend.”
“I just feel so terrible about Walter’s death that I can hardly say anything,” he admitted, excused himself and left the pulpit.
The services were witnessed by a near capacity crowd at the elegant, enormous St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in midtown Manhattan, where the Cronkite family has worshipped for years.
Broadcast journalists — co-workers, competitors, successors — were on hand, including Connie Chung, Bob Schieffer, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Charles Gibson, Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, Morley Safer and Meredith Vieira. Comedians-actors Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller were also in attendance.
But there was also room for members of the public to pay their respects.
James Huntsburg and his wife, Sylvia, visiting from Canada, had heard about the funeral. Admitted to the sanctuary, they took their place in one of the pews.
Huntsburg said he grew up watching Cronkite, who, he said, “touched me.”
When he heard of Cronkite’s death last Friday at 92, Huntsburg and his wife hadn’t yet left from their home near Toronto for their Manhattan vacation.
“I feel blessed to be here,” said Huntsburg, visibly moved.
For his reporting, Cronkite came to be called “the most trusted man in America” and was widely considered the premier TV journalist of his time. He anchored “The CBS Evening News” from 1962 until 1981 – a period that included the Vietnam War, the space race, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Watergate.
Sanford Socolow shared anecdotes from his many years working with Cronkite as a producer.
“Once,” Socolow recalled, “he had this bizarre idea that he would ad-lib the newscast without a script.” As Cronkite’s cue for the control room to roll each film clip, he would gently brush his nose with his hand.
“It was utter chaos,” said Socolow. “It lasted for two days.”
But repeatedly during the ceremony, Cronkite’s passion for sailing his beloved boat, the Wyntje, was celebrated.
Ashford offered vivid memories of their sailing adventures.
“Walter, hunched over the helm, would catch my eye, grin, and over the racket of the wind, holler, ‘Sen-sational!'”
And veteran TV producer Bill Harbach, a Cronkite friend for a half-century, recited the John Masefield poem “Sea-Fever,” movingly addressed to Cronkite.
Chip Cronkite affectionately gave thanks to his father for a host of things — on the water and off.
“Thanks,” he said, “for rushing to the side of the boat when a boom knocked me overboard. You stood there ready to jump in after me, and then were glad you didn’t have to. Thanks for getting ready to take out my appendix yourself with a sharpened spoon on the African plains, two days’ drive for a hospital. That time, I was glad you didn’t have to.”
A separate memorial will be held within the next few weeks at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Cronkite is to be cremated and his remains buried next to his wife, Betsy, in the family plot at a cemetery in Kansas City, Mo.
Associated Press Writer Marcus Franklin in New York contributed to this report.