It was a position that veteran newsman Frank Reynolds, who held his public career and his private life in equal reverence, would have appreciated--the president to his left, and his family to his right.
Reynolds, who died at age 59 on July 20 of viral hepatitis and bone cancer, spent more than 35 years in television journalism, 18 of them with the ABC network. He covered politicians and popes, astronauts and ordinary people, and yesterday at St. Matthew's Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue NW, many of his subjects came back to honor him.
There were the candidates (President and Nancy Reagan, former senator George McGovern); the cohorts (Reynolds' one-time co-anchor Howard K. Smith); the clerics (Bishop Edward J. Herrmann read a message of condolence from Pope John Paul II), and the columnists (Jimmy Carter's former press secretary Jody Powell, and conservative columnist George Will).
There were his broadcasting colleagues, not only from ABC--David Brinkley, Ted Koppel, Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson, Carl Bernstein, David Hartman--but also from all the networks: Tom Brokaw, Chris Wallace and Roger Mudd of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS, former National Public Radio president Frank Mankiewicz.
And there were his anonymous admirers. Some lingered across Rhode Island Avenue behind a cordon. Others, according to an ABC spokesman, sent "hundreds of letters and mass cards saying, 'He was like one of the family.' "
"The night Frank died there was a horrendous storm, as those of us from Washington will remember," Jennings said in his remarks at the funeral. "One lady wanted me to tell Frank's family that she was absolutely sure it was Frank arriving at the Pearly Gates."
Reynolds' reticence about his private life, which made his long illness a surprise to most of his friends, also extended to his religious faith. Koppel suggested that it was that faith that helped Reynolds "put everything else in perspective."
"Journalism has always wavered when it had to face the line between fact and truth," Koppel said. "But Frank had his own compass."
"He always understood that the influence, and indeed the power, that he held was derivative," Jennings said. "It could be exercised only as long as the public respected him and believed him."
There were numerous anecdotes about Reynolds the anchorman. The Rev. Thomas M. Duffy, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Chevy Chase, recalled Reynolds' expostulating one Sunday afternoon over some political issue. When Duffy remarked that Reynolds had been much more objective on the air, Reynolds chuckled and said, "Oh, I had to bite my tongue."
Koppel, looking down to the Reagans in a front pew, recalled that Reynolds was on the scene at the 1976 Republican National Convention when Gerald Ford won the presidential nomination. "In that moment of your defeat, Mr. Reagan," Koppel said, "instead of stepping in, which was the right thing to do, Frank stepped back, which was the decent thing to do."
The Reagans also attended ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, where Reynolds, who was awarded a Purple Heart during World War II, was buried with full military honors. An eight-member honor guard carried the coffin to the graveside, held an American flag taut over the coffin to form a canopy during the playing of "Taps," then folded and presented the flag to Reynolds' wife, Henrietta.
Although Reagan did not speak, he shook hands with Reynolds' wife, his mother and his five sons as they filed out of the church behind the coffin. After the graveside services, Nancy Reagan embraced Henrietta Reynolds for several moments, whispering in her ear.
Perhaps the best compliment to Reynolds' character came from his youngest son, Thomas, who read a poem to his father from the lectern. "The old gray heroes of your eyes are true," Thomas said, "they did not die."