On his sickbed in New York, Charles Kuralt thought of Montana, a place he had loved for a great many years for its unfurled splendor and natural wonders, far away from his life in the city.

He enjoyed standing knee-deep in a trout stream with no deadlines or pressures, with only his thoughts and a well-made fly rod.

Down by a riverside, he built a log cabin. It reminded him of his native North Carolina, but most of all it gave him a place to disappear. Wherever the news took him, wherever CBS sent him, whatever corner of the country he explored for his "On the Road" series and books, Kuralt always returned to his little cabin on the Big Hole River.

In the hospital, having surrendered to doctors and tests, Kuralt, shaky and anxious and only 62, took up a pen and wrote a letter:

"Dear Pat,

"Something is terribly wrong with me. . . . I'll have the lawyers visit the hospital to be sure you inherit the rest of the place in MT. If it comes to that . . ."

It was his last letter in many years of letters to Patricia Shannon. Kuralt could not have foreseen its impact, for the letter revealed a life he had hidden for nearly 30 years, and led to a confrontation between two women he hoped would never meet.

Suzanna "Petie" Kuralt, his wife, and Pat Shannon, his longtime companion, both wanted the Montana land Charles Kuralt left behind. Pat Shannon contested Kuralt's will in a court case that added a surprising and uncharacteristically contentious footnote to a life story everyone thought ended July 8, 1997, when Charles Kuralt came home one last time, to a shaded grave in Chapel Hill. In the Madison County courthouse in Virginia City, Mont., case file DP-29-97-3609 overflows with glimpses of a Charles Kuralt America did not know.

For 29 years, he moved between two worlds: one with a wife and career on the East Coast, another with a woman clear across the country.

He shared Montana with Pat Shannon, and that is not all.

They vacationed together, celebrated Christmases together, camped, hiked and picnicked together. Kuralt put her oldest daughter through law school and helped put her son through college. He bought her a cottage in Ireland. Over the years, he sent her enough money that she didn't have to work; the checks came monthly, $5,000 here, $8,000 there, well over half a million dollars. Even as Kuralt and Shannon drifted apart (he refused to leave his wife), he continued sending money and notes of affection.

A few months before he died, Kuralt deeded Shannon his Montana cabin and 20 acres, and with his final letter intended to give her the surrounding land. It was for the courts of Montana to decide whether the letter legally constituted a will, and last Tuesday, the court ruled that it didn't. Petie Kuralt won.

Unless the state Supreme Court overturns the ruling, she won 90 acres and a historic schoolhouse her husband renovated with Shannon as a study overlooking the cabin -- $600,000 worth of property.

The Kuralt family has declined to discuss the matter, and so have Pat Shannon and all their attorneys. Though the court records tell a great deal of Pat Shannon's side of the story, Petie Kuralt has chosen not to step forward and tell hers. The only known details about her marriage are in Charles Kuralt's own words.

The lawyers wanted so much to protect both women that they asked the court to close the case to the public, something Judge Frank Davis wouldn't do even if he could. "{Charles Kuralt} has, for all practical purposes, disclosed his double life," Davis said recently in court. "And we can't permit the deceased to dictate from the grave these concepts of privacy, I don't care how delicate they may be."

And so the court file grew with personal letters and mementos and photographs and cards, Shannon's evidence of Kuralt's generous devotion to her and her three children, who came to think of him as a father.

"Mr. Kuralt and I lived a life, and perhaps it was not a life you approve of," she testified recently. "But it was a life together."

Kuralt took great care never to cross that life with his other, or to "mix the families," as Shannon's daughter, Kathleen, has put it. Perhaps only Kuralt himself can say why.

During his 40 years with CBS News, Charles Kuralt achieved an enormous and loyal following. He had fans everywhere and he did not let them down. He reliably returned to their evening news and Sunday mornings with tales of the ordinary and offbeat, of worm grubbers, horse traders, mushroom hunters, sculptors, lobstermen, graveyards, veterans, brickmakers, parades, hippies, migrant workers, wildflowers. With his resonant drawl and folksy eloquence, Kuralt introduced America to itself.

People loved him for it, and for the basic reason that, famous or not, he seemed as ordinary as anyone: easygoing, rumpled, as pudgy and balding as a favorite uncle.

Kuralt did his job so well, people not only felt they knew his story subjects, they felt they knew him, forgetting there is more to a man, to any human being, than a television camera can beam into a family's den.

For all his fascination with the simple things in life, Charles Kuralt was a complicated man.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 3, a petite woman in a black suit took the witness stand in a nearly empty courtroom in Virginia City, Mont., a rugged gold-rush town in the Tobacco Root mountains. Pat Shannon was 64 years old, silver-haired and shy.

"Ms. Shannon," asked the attorney, "would you explain how you met Mr. Kuralt?"

It was the spring of 1968, and Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated. At her home in Reno, Nev., Pat Shannon Baker sat up into the night wondering what she, a young, divorced mother of three, could do.

Each day on her way to work at the power company, she passed a vacant lot in a desolate neighborhood. Somebody should turn that into a park, she thought. Then she decided that somebody was she.

She called on city leaders, contractors, landscapers, cement companies, and in three months had what she needed, plus volunteers to do the work. To raise excitement, they decided to build the park in a weekend. What they needed was publicity.

She heard that CBS had a guy who had just started roaming the country doing feature stories for Walter Cronkite to put on the evening news. She called CBS in New York. Cronkite's secretary switched her to Charles Kuralt.

Kuralt was 33 years old but already a CBS veteran. Eleven years earlier, the network had hired him away from the Charlotte News because he wrote so well. He started as a copywriter for news anchor Douglas Edwards but went quickly into the field as a correspondent, covering the secretary of state's visit to Thailand, a steel strike in Pennsylvania, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's tour of South America.

"I woke up those mornings staring at hotel room ceilings and trying to remember whether I was in Bangkok, Bethlehem or Bogota," he wrote. "Wherever I was, it wasn't Brooklyn, where I was supposed to live."

He had a wife, after all, his high school sweetheart, Sory Guthery, and their two baby girls, Lisa and Susan.

"I was drunk with travel, dizzy with the import of it all, and indifferent to thoughts of home and family," he wrote. "Pretty soon I no longer had a home or family."

Charles and Sory divorced. The marriage had lasted five years.

"I found I was lonely," Kuralt wrote. "I needed somebody to have a drink with once in a while, and tell my troubles to. On rare trips back to New York, I always had a drink with Petie Baird, the beautiful secretary who used to run along the Grand Central catwalk with me, arranging Doug Edwards' scripts. She was a reader of books, all books, Thurber, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Bruce Catton, Rex Stout, Alexander Pope. She was always able to tell me things I didn't know. One night, she overcooked a pork chop for me at her walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village."

"You are a terrible cook," Kuralt told her. "I don't suppose you'd like to marry me?"

"Maybe, someday."

When she finally accepted, Kuralt warned her.

"I'll be traveling all the time."

"I'm used to being alone."

"I'm not kidding. I'll never have a 9-to-5 job."

"I couldn't stand having somebody always around the house."

On June 1, 1962, Charles Kuralt and Petie Baird married in a one-minute ceremony at City Hall in New York.

"I suppose we haven't spent more than a week at a time together from that day to this," Kuralt would write many years later. "Petie has not minded this much. People ask, And what does your wife do while you're away?' I say, She reads and when I come home, she tells me things I don't know.' " The park in Reno sounded like a good story for "On the Road." Kuralt and his camera crew headed west. By now it was July in the blood-hot summer of '68. Bobby Kennedy was dead, too. If the black and white people of Reno could work together to build a park, that would be something to see. And it was.

Kuralt's camera rolled as 700 volunteers worked the weekend away.

"Almost lost in this crowd is a slight, pretty woman named Pat Baker," he told his viewers. "The whole crazy idea of building a park in two days. . . . Her idea became everybody's idea, and Pat Baker is watching her dream happen out here in the sun."

That night, Kuralt invited Baker to dinner. He arrived at her house with three dozen red roses.

She introduced him to her children: Kathleen, 13, J.R., 11, and Shannon, 9. He met her mother, too.

After dinner, Kuralt and Baker sat in the lobby of his hotel and talked all night about their lives. She was 34, he 33. She was born in San Diego, he in Wilmington, N.C. Both graduated from college in 1955, she from the University of Nevada, he from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was the daughter of an auto body worker, he the son of a schoolteacher and a social worker. She worked in public relations; he had never wanted to be anything but a journalist, and a traveler. She had been divorced for five years, and he had been remarried for six. "Now did you, after that evening, continue a personal relationship with Mr. Kuralt?" asked the attorney.

"Yes. He began calling me frequently and he sent me a book. It's called The Gentle Wilderness.' It's on the Sierra Nevada, and in it he put a note and said, Pick a place and we'll go there.' And he came back in September and we went hiking in the Sierra."

Every few weeks, Kuralt visited Shannon in Reno. Sometimes they went to San Francisco, but usually they stayed with Shannon's children and parents. They played the piano together, dyed Easter eggs, went to J.R.'s Pop Warner football games. Her family adored him.

In the fall of 1970, when Shannon and the kids decided to move to San Francisco, Kuralt not only helped them move, he paid the rent. The house was a nice place in a nice neighborhood, something a single mother with three children couldn't have afforded alone on a $13,000 salary.

She worked in public relations for the U.S. Department of Labor but soon found the job got in the way of time with Kuralt. So she quit and started her own women's rights consulting firm, Pat Shannon Baker & Associates.

The business wasn't enough to live on. Kuralt supported her and the kids.

"Did you talk about that with Charles Kuralt, the support, or was it kind of an unstated proposition?" the attorney asked.

"Well, when we talked about my quitting my job, we knew I didn't have any money. . . . Charles always said -- his refrain through all of his life -- Don't worry, we're rich,' he would say. He was the breadwinner of the family." Shannon never went on the road with Kuralt, but they traveled together in his off time.

In 1975, they found an ad in a fishing magazine: Field house for rent at a ranch on the Big Hole River.

They headed there, to southwestern Montana, known for its abundant streams and trout. The Big Hole meets the Jefferson and the Beaverhead near Twin Bridges, an old farming town of 400, an hour's drive south of Butte. Kuralt and Shannon found the field house on a rough little road 10 miles outside town, on a stretch of river quiet as a whisper.

"I fell in love with Montana at first sight," Kuralt wrote. "I was young and all the world was beautiful to me, but Montana was a great splendor."

He came to love it most in September, on the crisp, russet edge of winter when the mayflies flit above the surface of the creeks and the sun drops earlier behind the velvet folds of the foothills.

It is a lovely place to grow old.

"Now, did there come a time when there was discussion about purchasing property in Montana?" the attorney said.


"And who initiated that?"

"Well, Charles had always wanted a piece of land on the river."

It was autumn 1981. Kuralt and Shannon had vacationed almost every autumn on the Big Hole River. There, they wanted to stay.

The rancher sold Kuralt 20 acres a few miles away from the field house, near a thicket of wild roses. He found a company in Kalispell that made square, rough-hewn logs the color of honey. He had a cabin built, a small but handsome cabin with porches front and back and a fireplace of fieldstone, right there on the river's edge.

This was a busy time for Kuralt. He had just had another book published, "On the Road With Charles Kuralt." He delivered the graduation speech at UNC Chapel Hill. And he took Shannon to Ireland.

"Let's just drive around and look at real estate, see what's for sale," Kuralt said one day when they were there. Shannon had been desperately unhappy. A friend of Kathleen's had committed suicide. Kuralt had gone with them on the boat to scatter the boy's ashes beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

The cottage he chose was in the town of Derrynavglaun, near the Glencoaghan River, on a meadow that sloped to a bog and filled with wildflowers in summer.

Kuralt bought it for Shannon, a gift.

"Okay," the attorney continued. "One question that should be directly asked is that you knew that Mr. Kuralt was married during this period? And by this period, I'll define it as throughout the 1970s and 1980s."


". . . Were there specific discussions about . . . him being married?"

"No. There were -- I went through bouts of despair, and there were arguments, but we never directly talked about, about his life in New York. I knew it existed. I did not inquire into it. And he did not discuss it with me."

In 1987, Kuralt decided to buy more land on the Big Hole River, 39 acres on one side of the cabin and a 50-acre bluff on the other.

Driving around Madison County, Kuralt and Shannon often passed the Pageville schoolhouse, a derelict old thing given over to wayward cows. In the steepled ruin, they envisioned a library where he could write after he retired from CBS.

Kuralt paid $15,000 for the schoolhouse, had it moved to the river bluff and hired a contractor to restore it. Shannon oversaw much of the project from San Francisco, where she was getting increasingly restless. With Kuralt's help she had started a small business that made and sold frozen cooking stocks, but the company had failed. The children were grown. And despite the plans she and Kuralt had made, they were having trouble.

They had been together 20 years now, and still Kuralt refused to divorce his wife.

Shannon decided to move to London to study landscape architecture at the Inchbald School of Design. Kuralt paid for it, and visited her there that autumn.

When Shannon returned home in the spring, she and Kuralt went camping. He wrote her son, J.R., a letter:

"We are enjoying camp. We saw a pheasant but not a skunk. We had a pillow fight. . . . We listen to music. . . . We cook our own meals and only take a bath when we want to. . . . Well, I must close for now. I love you. Oh, our faucet drips. xxxxx, Charles. P.S. I love you." From the start, Charles Kuralt impressed the Baker children as a kind man who was genuinely interested in their lives and future.

He gave J.R. his first baseball glove, taught him how to sail. When J.R. had trouble getting into college, Kuralt sent him to a preparatory school in Arizona, where one of Cronkite's children had gone. When he thought J.R. should see a bit of the world, he took him on the road with his camera crew, and once got him an internship at CBS.

He paid for Kathleen to go to law school at the University of San Francisco; when she graduated, Kuralt was there. He helped send J.R. to grad school; when he graduated, Kuralt was there. He gave them job references and advice and very often, a little walking-around money.

He never failed to send birthday cards and valentines. He wrote letters a good father would write: Don't rush into a job you hate. . . . Let's catch some fish this summer. . . . I'm proud of you. . . . I love you. He began signing his letters "Pop."

They sent him cards on Father's Day.

He said he would always be there for them, no matter what happened between him and their mother.

"Now Ms. Shannon," the attorney continued, "was there a time during this period that you attempted to break off and pursue an independent life?"

"Well, we -- our lives became increasingly scattered, I guess you would say. Charles was no longer on the road. He was living with Mrs. Kuralt in New York City. . . . Charles had not gotten a divorce and I was becoming more and more unhappy about it and had decided to spend more and more time in Ireland. . . . Charles said he thought we had too much invested to just toss it aside and was eager, as I generally was, too, to have reconciliations." "There is no contentment on the road, and little enough fulfillment," Kuralt wrote in his 1990 memoir, "A Life on the Road." "I know that now. I am acquainted with people who live settled lives and find deep gratification in family and home. I know what I have missed, the birthdays and anniversaries, the generations together at the table, the pleasures of kinship, the rituals of the hearth. And still I wander."

They were in their mid-fifties now, Charles and Pat, and had behind them the trips, the gifts, the Septembers in Montana, all the years of letters and poems he sent, like this one at Christmas:

What I Will Give You . . .

A string of pearls

A suit and sweater

A Rubens print

A holly tree

And me.

A mixing bowl

A sofa and chair

A set of china

A butcher knife

My life.

A year earlier, Kuralt had written Shannon into his will. "In the event of my death I bequeath to Patricia Elizabeth Shannon all my interest in land, buildings, furnishings and personal belongings on Burma Road, Twin Bridges, Montana."

He took her out of his will in 1994, one of the most pivotal years of his life.

Professionally and personally, Kuralt's relationships were changing, if not ending. He retired from CBS, and letters of sadness poured in from all over the country, more than 1,000 a day.

He answered his fans by writing another book, his last. For "Charles Kuralt's America" he would spend one month in the 12 places he loved best, at the time of year he loved best. New Orleans in January, Grandfather Mountain in May, Twin Bridges in September, New York City in December. . . .

He gave February to Key West, Fla., and called Shannon to join him. She still hoped he would leave his wife, so she took him up on his first-class ticket. In Key West, she realized again nothing ever would change.

"Now, Ms. Shannon, I want to move up to 1997," said the attorney. "I'm handing you what is marked as Exhibit 10, and ask you what that is."

"This is a warranty deed for the 20 acres and the cabin. . . ."

"And when was that property conveyed to you?"

"April 9, 1997."

"And what were the circumstances leading up to that?"

"Charles's health had been getting steadily worse."

Shannon now owned the cabin and 20 acres and the view of the river Kuralt loved so well.

He wanted to deed over the rest of the land, but she says she urged him to wait. They were to meet at the cabin in September and once again try to repair their relationship.

She wrote to him before leaving to spend the summer in Ireland. The meadow was mowed, the new disposal installed. "God willing," she wrote, "I'll see you in the fall."

Kuralt hadn't been feeling well at all. His doctors in New York ran tests to figure out why he stayed so tired all the time. On June 18, he wrote to Shannon from the hospital: "Something is terribly wrong with me." He enclosed two checks, one for $9,000 and one for $8,000.

Days later, when she received the letter in Ireland, Shannon frantically called J.R., who called the hospital, which would tell him nothing. J.R. called Kuralt's apartment in New York as he often did, and Petie Kuralt picked up the phone. For all she knew, J.R. thought, this was just another friend calling to check on her husband, just another friend from the road.

His heart was the trouble, and lupus. But he seemed to be getting better, Petie Kuralt said.

J.R. called his mother and told her not to come to New York.

On July 3, J.R. called Kuralt. His mother was anxious to speak to him, J.R. said.

No, said Kuralt; he would be home soon and would call her then.

The next day, he died.

"You went to his funeral, didn't you?" the attorney asked Shannon.

"Yes." "What documents did you have with you at his funeral?" "I had the June 18th document."

"The June 18 letter?"

"Yes." They buried him between a crape myrtle and a dogwood tree in Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, his mahogany casket covered in red roses.

More than 1,600 people had come to the memorial service to say goodbye, the famous and the unknown, among them Patricia Shannon. At one point that day, she showed Kuralt's letter to someone at the funeral, and the secret began to unravel. CAPTION: A restored schoolhouse, top left, and the land surrounding it in Madison County, Mont., brought Charles Kuralt's three-decade affair with Pat Shannon (below, with the newsman in the 1970s) to light. Kuralt's deathbed bequest of the property to Shannon was contested by his widow. Last week, a court ruled against Shannon. CAPTION: Charles Kuralt with his longtime companion Pat Shannon, right, at her daughter Kathleen's law school graduation in 1994. Kuralt paid the young woman's tuition, and helped put Shannon's son J.R. through college. CAPTION: Those were the days: Pat Shannon and Charles Kuralt soon after they met in the late 1960s when the newsman was reporting a story for CBS.