March is the cruelest month of the year, particularly this year when we all lose Walter Cronkite as anchorman on the CBS nightly news. We are not only saying goodbye to a man who has spent more time in our homes than most of our children, but also to a person who has been voted, year after yar, as the most trusted man in America.
I am a personal friend of Walter's and I now can reveal for the first time how Walter achieved this title.
Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Mo., the only child of a dentist and a housewife. When he was 7 years old, his mother sent him to the store for a quart of milk. Walter saw a lady drop a dime on the floor of the store. He picked it up and gave it to her. She patted him on the head and said, "Someday you will be the most trusted man in this country."
This incident changed Walter's life because he finally knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
His family moved to Houston where Walter attended Sidney Lanier High School, and was the only student the teachers would trust to clean the blackboards.
He was also the only boy that parents in Houston would trust with their daughters. Walter never violated that trust, and most of the girls he went out with reported it was the most boring date they ever had.
After finishing high school Walter enrolled at the University of Texas where he majored in Trustworthiness, with a minor in Integrity.
Although he had a brilliant scholastic records, his social life suffered because the word was out that Walter could be trusted not to make a pass at a girl. The coeds at the University of Texas refused to have anything to do with him.
For the first time Walter started having doubts about wanting to be the most trusted man in America.
He told his mother, "Maybe I should go into law or politics instead."
His mother sympathized with him and said, "I know it's hard not to lie and cheat and mess around in convertibles, but someday if you stick to your vows and become America's most trusted man, women will throw themselves at you feet, and you will never have to do without again."
So Walter graduated from the University of Texas "magna cum virgin" to take up his role in journalism, which many say is the second oldest profession in the world.
Walter worked on newspapers, for wire services and eventually joined the electronic media. In 1962 he took over the CBS Evening News, and achieved his dream of becoming the most trusted man in this country.
The role Walter Cronkite has played in all our lives cannot be overestimated. I recall during on of the space shots, when the astronauts were having trouble with their capsule, Walter was the first to tell us that there was a malfunction in a computer that had made the ship lose control. I was sick with fear, but my wife said, "Don't worry, Walter will solve the problem."
Sure enough, 20 minutes later Walter was back on the air, reporting the computer had been fixed and the astronauts were safe.
A man less trustworthy would have taken credit for correcting the problem, but Walter refused. Yet everyone in America knew that once again Cronkite had saved the day.
Walter is not leaving television. He will be doing specials and other news-worthy events. But he won't be coming into our living rooms every night anymore.
We'll miss him not only in the evenings, but also during the space shots and political conventions and the summit talks.
But most of all the American people will have to find another person in this country they can trust. With a population of only 220 million citizens to choose from, it isn't going to be easy.