Growing up, we had few family rituals. Walter Cronkite was one of them.
Every evening, after the dinner dishes were done, we gathered in front of the black-and-white Zenith in my parents’ bedroom and watched Uncle Walter on “CBS Evening News.” It was as close to a family hearth as would ever exist for us.
My father, a fiercely intelligent educator, held The New York Times in Biblical esteem. Still, no story was set in stone until he had heard it from Walter Cronkite. That unmistakable gravelly timbre, while not the voice of God, projected the same gravitas as that of Charlton Heston‘s Moses.
And that’s the way it was for millions of us. Before cable TV, before the internet, before Twitter, Facebook and killer apps, Walter Leland Cronkite Jr., the Missouri-born son and grandson of dentists, defined and delivered the news.
From 1962 to 1981, the world, as we knew it, was filtered through his eyes, and we trusted his vision. If Cronkite said it, it had to be true.
Now he’s gone, at 92 a victim of cerebrovascular disease. And with his death yesterday goes the last of the truly iconic newsmen. Occupants of that pantheon — Brinkley, Sevareid, Smith, Collingwood, Murrow — preceded Cronkite long ago.
Though he came from strong stock — his mother lived to 101 — Cronkite felt increasingly mortal with each of their passings. When David Brinkley died in 2003 at age 82, Cronkite, then 86, told this reporter he felt the loss “very keenly.”
“What you don’t realize until you get to my age is that when someone of your generation dies, it is a little loss of your own memory. There’s no one I can chew the fat with about the old days.”
Cronkite didn’t scream. He didn’t interrupt. With one infamous
exception, he didn’t editorialize. Hell, he didn’t even like adjectives in his copy. Magically, it all worked. For 14 consecutive years, until his forced retirement at age 65 – yes, 65!!! – “CBS Evening News” was the country’s most-watched newscast.