Correction to This Article
The co-author of two books with Peter Jennings was misidentified in a Sept. 21 Style story. He is Todd Brewster.

Peter Jennings's Fans Remember an Anchor of Their Lives

Former CBS anchor Dan Rather before the Carnegie Hall service.
Former CBS anchor Dan Rather before the Carnegie Hall service. (By Bebeto Matthews -- Associated Press)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

NEW YORK, Sept. 20 -- From Royal Canadian Mounties to Yo-Yo Ma, from Bob Schieffer and Brian Williams to Jon Stewart and Alan Alda, they came to Carnegie Hall for a final performance to honor Peter Jennings.

In the vastness of an ornate auditorium Tuesday, every detail of the memorial service for the ABC anchor who died last month was meticulously rendered -- down to the ties from Jennings's closet that his widow, Kayce, gave the 14 ushers because he was always chiding colleagues about their unimpressive neckwear.

"Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel, hastening to point out that he is not gay, said that from the time they first met, "I felt a thrill when I saw him. Not many people had that genuine charisma, that sort of animal magnetism that makes it difficult to focus on anyone else in the room.

"Peter was famously, at times notoriously, attractive to women. Even so, he only married four of them," Koppel said to laughter from the 2,200 invited guests.

He continued in a joshing mode, recalling how Jennings once bought used suits to offset his good looks, but paused for a long moment in mid-sentence when mentioning his friend's two children, Chris and Elizabeth.

After gathering himself, Koppel said: "Even in his last days, he still filled a room."

An extended media family, which had lined up eight deep outside the storied hall on West 57th Street, exchanged hugs and remembrances. There were Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, Larry King and Bill O'Reilly, Connie Chung and Michael Eisner, Al Sharpton and Jann Wenner, and virtually all of ABC News: Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Charlie Gibson, Barbara Walters, John Cochran, Ann Compton, Linda Douglass and so many more. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, watched the proceedings from the second of three balconies.

As color photos of Jennings flashed above the stage, the ceremony had the brisk pacing of a television show. From the opening bagpipes to the speakers' brief remembrances, the program was punctuated by offerings from musicians -- Jennings was a huge jazz fan -- including Ma and Wynton Marsalis, who took advantage of Carnegie's impressive acoustics.

Jennings was the face of ABC News for more than two decades, and his death -- along with the recent retirements of CBS's Dan Rather, who was at the service, and NBC's Tom Brokaw -- added to the sense that a television era has passed.

It is difficult to overstate how devastated most ABC journalists were by Jennings's Aug. 7 death at age 67 from lung cancer, just five months after the diagnosis was announced. The delay in the public ceremony -- a private funeral had been held for family and close friends -- allowed the initial shock to wear off, making the event as much a celebration of Jennings's life as a mourning of his death.

The service included references to Jennings's journalistic exploits, such as his being the only network anchor to watch the arraignment of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. But there was a determination by those involved to invoke Jennings with all his quirks and personality tics, not to enshrine him as a plaster saint. With dabs of color and brushstrokes of anecdote, what emerged was the mosaic of a man known for his passion, his sentimentality and his kindnesses, large and small.

When Jennings spoke to a gathering of families of journalists killed in Iraq, said former ABC correspondent Charles Glass, he stayed behind after the speeches to comfort them. "He couldn't let go of their anguish," Glass said.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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