An Extraordinary Encounter with Cronkite

Iconic CBS Newsman Walter Cronkite and's Melissa Castellanos
By Melissa Castellanos

Sometimes the most extraordinary encounters happen when you least expect them. In my case, it was meeting CBS News legend Walter Cronkite.

New to the Big Apple, coming from a small newspaper in Massachusetts and thrust into the bustling world of New York City, I was thrilled to land a job at CBS News, home of broadcasting pioneer Edward R. Murrow.

Little did I know at the time that one of the world's most recognizable figures in journalism was working around the corner from me, on the 19th floor of CBS' Black Rock building.

There was always a buzz on the floor when Cronkite made his office visit. I was hoping to just once get a glimpse of him from down the hall.

Aware that I was a fan, my colleagues pulled some strings and Marlene Adler, Cronkite's longtime chief of staff, was kind enough to introduce me to him.

There he was sitting behind his office desk, still diligently at work.

He was surrounded by pictures of himself taken with presidents and celebrities, including long-time friend George Clooney, and aboard his sailboat, plying the waves off Martha's Vineyard. There also were a great many family photos.

Special Section: Walter Cronkite: 1916-2009

Thrilled to hear of my Massachusetts roots, Cronkite was just as genuine and sincere as I had imagined him to be. I remember thinking, "Wow - what these kind blue eyes have witnessed and reported in a lifetime."

He acknowledged how much journalism has changed over time and how lucky he was to have had the opportunity to keep Americans informed, report from the frontlines and learn from his experiences.

Some may think that the catastrophes he reported on, including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., or the Watergate scandal, would have made him somewhat jaded; but Cronkite wasn't. He was real, humble and well-rounded. And even as he aged, he still possessed a child-like excitement for space exploration.

Although it was just a few moments, I will never forget this encounter. At the time, I shared it with many family members and friends. My parents were thrilled to discover that one of the first people I met in New York was "the most trusted man in America!"

Like the astronauts he reported on, Cronkite ventured to a place where no other anchor did.

And although Cronkite didn't live to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, it wouldn't surprise me if his spirit made a pit stop on the moon before ascending to heaven.

"They led us further and higher than we ever imagined we were likely to go," Cronkite said of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins. What Cronkite may not have realized at the time was that he, too, took Americans further and higher, while setting the bar for all journalists to follow.