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Friends, family honor Jennings at N.Y. memorial

September 21, 2005

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – With music he loved and
stories of his devotion as a father and his work on behalf of
the homeless, family and friends said goodbye to Peter Jennings
on Tuesday with a memorial service that brought laughter and
tears in memory of the ABC News anchor.

The two-hour service brought 2,000 people to Carnegie Hall,
not only almost every big name in broadcast journalism, past
and present, but also notables from Hollywood and politics, a
fellow tennis player and the president of a homeless-aid group
for which he volunteered in New York.

“Peter’s life was incredibly full — full of adventure,
full of learning, full of teaching, full of love,” said Dr. Tim
Johnson, the ABC News medical correspondent who grew even
closer to Jennings during his illness. Jennings died August 7
after a five-month battle with lung cancer.

Several speakers recalled Jennings’ two-decade-long stretch
as one of the Big Three anchors and one of the most powerful
journalists in the country. But more striking — and much more
prevalent — were reminisces by family and friends of the times
he spent off the air. Personal snapshots of Jennings — always
handsome, always full of life and often with a wry smile —
flashed on a screen throughout. The speakers painted a picture
of a man fiercely devoted to his two children, Christopher and
Elizabeth, and to his marriage to Kaycee Freed.

“Ultimately he would judge his own success over how good a
father he was to Chris and Lizzie,” ABC News president David
Westin said.

Near the end of the service, Christopher and Elizabeth
Jennings brought the most poignant tributes to their father.

“The same qualities that made him a great journalist made
the parent he was,” said Christopher, who told of his father’s
sense of awe at the world, his inquisitive nature and his deep
sentimentality.

“The slightest achievement by his children, or even his
dog, could wet his eyes,” he said. “Even the sound of bagpipes
tuning up could make him cry.”

“World News Tonight” senior broadcast producer Tom
Nagorski, a longtime friend and associate, also recalled
Jennings’ emotionalism and touching gestures even while he was
frail from illness. Nagorski read from a letter his daughter
Natalie received from Jennings in response to the get-well card
she made and sent to him. Jennings wrote that the colors on the
card “really cheered me up. . . . Whenever an adult is sick,
there is nothing quite as good as a young person’s kindness to
make them feel better.”

“Nightline” host Ted Koppel recalled Jennings’ magnetism to
both men and women and his simple act of kindness to a homeless
man the two encountered years ago on 67th Street in Manhattan.
They both contributed money to the man, but Jennings did more.

“Peter stayed and talked to the man for about 10 minutes,”
Koppel said. “He asked about his life and listened.”

Jennings didn’t talk about it much, but he was “a great
friend to homeless New York,” recalled Mary Brosnahan Sullivan,
executive director of New York-based Coalition for the
Homeless.

Sullivan called Jennings “someone of concrete action” who
often rushed out the door after the end of “World News Tonight”
to deliver hot meals to the needy or to visit with the homeless
in the flophouses of the Bowery section of Manhattan. He did
that without attention and listened and spoke to the people he
encountered.

“He knew instinctively that homeless people were first and
foremost people,” Sullivan said.

Mourners heard the sound of bagpipes, courtesy of two
members of the NYPD Emerald Society, at the beginning of the
service. They were escorted by two tan-hatted and red-jacketed
members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of many nods
to Jennings’ Canadian heritage. Fiddle, string and jazz music
filled the service played by Canadian fiddler Natalie
MacMaster, musician Alison Krauss, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz
greats Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry.

Elizabeth Jennings said it was hard not to have Jennings
there. “Without him, I find myself stumbling around in the
dark,” she said. She recalled her father’s speech at her high
school graduation as well as lines from “Romeo and Juliet,”
once used as a eulogy to President John F. Kennedy by his
brother, Robert: “Take him and cut him out in little stars/and
he will make the face of heav’n so fine/that all the world will
be in love with night/and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

“He was famously, almost notoriously attractive to women,”
Koppel recalled. “Even so, he only married four of them.” That
drew a laugh from the audience; Koppel said that each of the
four women played a key role in Jennings’ life, especially Kati
Marton, the mother of his two children, and Kaycee, who took
care of him through his illness and passing.

Journalists in attendance included Walter Cronkite, Andy
Rooney, Brian Williams, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, Steve Capus,
Jim Murphy, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Aaron Brown, Jonathan
Klein, Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. Others included Alan Alda,
author Tom Wolfe, top Disney executives Michael Eisner and Bob
Iger, talk-show host Larry King and Barry Diller.

Alda said his friend Jennings was a “truly authentic
person” and added: “He was complex and simple at the same time.
He was knowledgeable and inquisitive. He was kind and tough,
all at the same time. He was graceful and direct.”

He pointed to a dinner party where Jennings stayed to help
wash the dishes at Alda’s house, then said: “Now that
everyone’s gone, if I were you I would send that wine back
where you got it, it’s a little off.” Then Alda said,
remembering, “Graceful and direct.”

Morton “Skip” Goldfein talked about his friend’s grace and
competitiveness on the tennis courts, his devotion to speaking
with disadvantaged children in the tough Upper Manhattan
neighborhood of Washington Heights, and his connection to
people no matter what walk of life.

He recalled an event at Lincoln Center: “One minute, he was
talking with the director of Lincoln Center and then he was
helping a waitress serve wine.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter




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