By Laura Yao
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A quiet crowd threaded across the St. Albans School lawn in Northwest Washington yesterday, as people waited to pay their last respects to Tim Russert, the "Meet the Press" host who died suddenly Friday at age 58.
Volunteers at the wake estimated that nearly 300 people an hour were moving through the Cafritz Refectory, where the public could file past Russert's closed coffin from 2 to 9 p.m.
President and Laura Bush were among the first to arrive, bringing a bouquet of yellow and orange roses and remaining for nearly 15 minutes. Other visitors ranged from Russert's NBC colleagues to people he had interviewed to admirers who did not know Russert as anything other than a beloved television personality. Traffic was backed up for blocks on Massachusetts Avenue, and visitors waited in line for almost an hour to enter the chapel.
Russert's wife, Maureen Orth, his son, Luke, and other family members were there to greet many among the continuous throngs of people, hugging and shaking hands down the line. Luke Russert graduated from St. Albans in 2004, and the coffin was flanked by an honor guard of his classmates. The president's bouquet was displayed prominently nearby.
One visitor was Belinda Lai, who said she tutored Luke for his SAT and has kept in touch with the family. "Tim was just so nice, so friendly, he would give me a big hug every time he saw me," Lai said. "I'd always see him sitting in the second row at Wizards games and wave."
After moving through the refectory, visitors were invited to write messages to be compiled in a memory book for the family.
Russert's funeral today will be private. An invitation-only memorial service will be held at the Kennedy Center and televised at 4 p.m. on NBC (Channel 4) and MSNBC.