Friends, Family Remember Cronkite

Cronkite funeral - aerial CBS

Relatives and friend remembered legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite Thursday at a memorial service at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan, where the Cronkite family worshiped for decades.

"Walter was such a good friend. I can't get over it," said "60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney.

Rooney recalled becoming friends with Cronkite when they were both reporters covering World War II in London. But the normally loquacious Rooney struggled to find words.

"You get to know someone pretty well in a war," he said. "I just feel so terrible about Walter's death that I can hardly say anything. Please excuse me."

Photos: Friends and Colleagues Arrive for Funeral
Photos: Cronkite Laid to Rest

Cronkite died July 17 at his home in New York after a long illness. He was 92.

Known for his steady and straightforward delivery, his trim moustache, and his iconic sign-off line - "That's the way it is" - Cronkite dominated the television news industry during one of the most volatile periods of American history. During a more than 30-year career at CBS, he broke the news of the Kennedy assassination, reported extensively on Vietnam and Civil Rights and Watergate, and seemed to be the very embodiment of TV journalism.

"He had this reputation for being cool and calm and collected no matter what the circumstances … but that doesn't do him justice. He was really ferocious at times," said Sanford Socolow, a longtime CBS News executive and executive producer of Cronkite Productions. "He was always a wire service reporter in his heart. And he always lived by the wire service adage … 'Get it first, but get it right.'"

But in addition to remembering Cronkite the journalist, speakers recalled Cronkite's humor and sense of wonderment at the world, his love of sailing, and his willingness to show emotion.

Mike Ashford, a sailing friend, recalled how Cronkite cried, "openly and without shame," when his yellow lab of many years died.

And Cronkite's son, Chip Cronkite, in a speech addressed to his late father, thanked him for "saying to mom as you passed her in the kitchen or the hall, 'Shall we dance?' and then taking her for a few turns around the room."

Socolow said that even as he grew gravely ill, Cronkite reveled in a love of music and relished visits from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and singer Jimmy Buffett, who delivered an impromptu ukulele performance.

Cronkite, though notoriously demanding in the newsroom, could also be funny and even silly, friends said. Socolow joked about his inability to pronounce the word "February" and an instance in which Cronkite forgot his own name when he signed off at the end of the broadcast.

In other words, it was no coincidence that Cronkite became "the most trusted man in America" - surpassing even the president in a 1972 poll.

"He was always I think the same guy that most of America guessed he was," Ashford said - serious about the news but also almost childishly sincere. "I learned to think and appreciate and observe the world the way Walter did."

A separate memorial will be held within the next few weeks at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com

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