Fred Caesar, a special assistant for communications at the Catholic Health Association, is one of numerous journalists personally touched by the life of Walter Cronkite, the CBS newsman who died last week. He sent us his thoughts this week, and we thought they were interesting enough to publish here.
Years prior to working with the Catholic Health Association of the United States, I worked for almost 20 years in TV and radio news. During that span of time I worked for three CBS TV stations (one NBC too): KMOX-TV (now KMOV-TV) in St. Louis, WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Pa., and WGME in Portland, Maine. I was the news director at the latter stations.
In 1980 when working at WHP-TV, Walter Cronkite called me one afternoon to apologize. As news director I had sent him a letter in January 1980 inviting him to record a special commentary to be included in our station’s planned program in March to mark the first anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident. Well, in late March of 1980 at around 4 in the afternoon I was told that Walter Cronkite was on the phone.
My first thought was that someone was playing a prank. I picked up the phone and it really was Walter Cronkite calling me about two hours before his evening newscast. He said he had received my January letter and had put it aside but it had been misplaced until recently. He said that was not how he normally handled his correspondence and wanted me to know that he was very sorry for not responding earlier. He asked how the anniversary program was shaping up and said he was sorry it was too late for him to prepare anything. (Here he is about two hours from a major evening newscast of his own asking how our local program was shaping up!) He then asked that I extend his thanks to our news team for their work in contributing information during the last 12 months to the CBS Evening News about events at Three Mile Island. I recall saying something about that I wished him all the best and thanked him for the call.
This truly showed what a great man he was. He didn’t have to call me, and could have just sent a note. I was honored. But there is more.
Back in St. Louis in the early 1970s, KMOX-TV was moving to new studios in St. Louis and was discarding files at the time. In a stack of things to be pitched were a few promotional photos of Walter Cronkite at his anchor desk from the 1960s. Well, I pulled a few of the photos from the stack and put them in my memorabilia box. In 1986, when working at WGME-TV in Portland, Walter Cronkite was doing a book-signing event in southern Maine one afternoon. He had just co-wrote the book “North by Northeast.” I prepared a brief note to accompany one of my old promotional photos and put in an envelope and then asked our reporter covering the event to see if Walter Cronkite would sign the photo. He did. For years I have had the signed photo hanging on my wall in my office. I have used it as an inspiration and to recall good memories.