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ANDREW HEYWARD: Walter Cronkite, of course, was anchor and managing editor of the CBS EVENING NEWS when Charles first went on the road. Recently, Walter admitted that he was initially skeptical about whether Charles's idea would work. Walter's with us today. Walter, welcome.

WALTER CRONKITE:
Good day, Petie. I was touched, deeply honored to be invited to participate in this service for Charles, but at the same time, quite frankly, I was a little disturbed at being here.

It has to do with pretense—of appearing to be something that one is not. I felt that I was a good friend, a colleague of Charles's. I was reasonably confident that that friendship was reciprocated. But as much as I might have liked to, I never could lay claim, and can't today, to being among Charles's best friends. That great privilege was reserved for several of you and others—very, very lucky persons—and better qualified, indeed.

I'm telling you all this because I don't want to appear to be something I am not, not here, not in these circumstances with Charles looking on. For among all of those attributes of Charles's, none, perhaps, was stronger than his distaste for pretense, for the phony, for those who presented themselves as something they were not.

Charles Kuralt was the genuine article. What you saw was what you got. This, undoubtedly, was the essence of his extraordinary popularity. He stood out as an unusual human being in a world and in a medium populated by those who seem to live by the adage of that great satirist Fred Allen, who said, "You know, all it takes to be a success in television is the ability to fake sincerity."

There wasn't an ounce of that fakery in Charles Kuralt, and he was, we all know, one of television's great successes. The secret, undoubtedly, was that Charles, on camera, always was himself. He did not write or speak if he could not speak and write from the heart—speak sincerely of that on which he reported.

This must've been apparent in his very earliest days, I think, in journalism, on the University of North Carolina campus. He was a star so early—editor of the Daily Tar Heel, although he was a history major, not a journalism one—a columnist in his very first year on the Charlotte News and, just a year after graduation, recipient of the prestigious Ernie Pyle Award, the details of which we don't need to go into here, but I can tell you that there couldn't have been a veteran writer and reporter in America who didn't grit his teeth in envy over this youngster's leap to national recognition.

I'll admit that I suffered a little of that envy when he carne to CBS as a writer just a year later. Admiring editors passed his copy around the newsroom, and I read it with the same wonder as all the rest. Here was a guy born the very year I got my first full-time newspaper job and already he wrote a lot better than I did. And I never caught up, of course.

That sort of talent could have made this young genius absolutely unbearable, but that it did not was, again, indicative of his totally unassuming character Of course Charles must've known how good he was as a writer and as a broadcaster. He certainly heard the accolades. He wasn't deaf; He accepted many of the many, many awards that would be bestowed upon him and he sat through untold numbers of speeches of praise—I assume, many times, an embarrassment. But none was able to pierce his cloak of humility.

In our shop, he was certain that others who contributed to the success of his broadcasts got the credit that they deserved. Les Midgley, the producer of one of his earliest series, a program called, EYEWITNESS, which many of us remember, shared with me a note that Charles wrote to him on a birthday, some years later. Charles wrote to Les, "If you ever made a decision that was less than admirable and right, I never noticed. If I argued with you at the time, I now admit that I was wrong. And if I never mentioned how much I admired you, I do now." There are scores of CBS employees and ex-employees who can testify to this—well, let me call it what it was—this sweetness that was part of Charles.

Even when Charles was holding true to his principles of truth-telling, he could leaven candor with humor. A year or so ago, I had the privilege of presenting him an award for distinguished journalism at Arizona State University and, in accepting, Charles said a kind thing or two about me, but then noted that I wasn't perfect. Now, a shock to me, of course! And in these words, he told this story about our coverage of our nation's bicentennial celebration in 1976.

I anchored that broadcast and, as I said in my introduction of him then—and again at A.S.U.—Charles had what I considered the choice assignment. He was aboard the Coast Guard's Eagle, as Phil mentioned, in the parade of great sailing ships.

Charles picked up on that and there, at A.S.U., he said—and these are now his words—"There occurred one of those great, unforgettable moments," Charles said. "The band was playing aboard the Eagle, bands were playing on shore, fireboats were spraying great red, white and blue plumes of water into the air, crowds were cheering. It was the patriotic equivalent of all hell breaking loose.

"They see and hear all of this on the monitors—back in the control room, cue cards were held telling Walter to 'Go to Kuralt.'

"But Walter was involved in a long and tedious history of the discovery of America with a guest to whom he wanted to be polite, of course' the Naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison. 'Go to Kuralt'' said the cue card. Walter was genuinely interested in this interview," Kuralt went on. "He asked Morrison another impenetrably dull question, and Morrison obediently droned on.

"I said, 'The Eagle passing the battery was a great, historic moment,' and it was. It was a moment. It passed. The band stopped playing. The guns stopped firing. The fireboats ran out of red, white and blue water. The crowds were left behind. We entered the Hudson River on a tide of silence. There was nothing to see and nothing to hear and nothing for me to say.

"In the midst of my disappointment, in my headset I heard Walter say, 'Fascinating, Admiral Morrison. Thank you for being with us for this historic morning, and now let's go to Charles Kuralt aboard the Eagle."'

Well, it wasn't only the public that knew that it would get the truth from Charles Kuralt. All of us as colleagues knew, too, what Charles reported would be the truth and nothing but the truth as nearly as it could be determined by one of the finest reporters and writers ever to come our way.

A reporter the other day asked me who I saw on the horizon of television news who could take Charles's place. While acknowledging that there are some fine reporters and writers out there, the answer, of course, is no one.

Additional Tributes

Phil Scheffler | Dan Rather | Shad Northshield
Ed Bradley | Walter Cronkite | Bernie Birnbaum
Linda Mason | Missie Rennie | Mike Wallace
Andy Rooney


USA Today Editorial
Forgiving Charles Kuralt

The Book
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About The Book
| Reviews | Author Biography
Preface
| Foreword | Eastern North Carolina

Addendum to Book
Nobel Peace Prize
| Remembering | Sir Charles
Timeline
| A Tribute | CBS Transcripts |
Letters To Ken McClure|
David Brinkley on Charles Kuralt
Kuralt's Remarks At Hugh & Julia Morton's 50th Wedding Anniversary

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Charles Kuralt's People

An intellectually stimulating collection of insightful and occasionally poignant commentaries, Charles Kuralt's People is very highly recommended reading for students of the human condition in general, and legions of Charles Kuralt fans in particular. — Midwest Book Review Click for more info.

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Publishers of the first edition of "Remembering Charles Kuralt," now carried by The Globe Pequot Press, Kenilworth Media is a small, Asheville, North Carolina-based publishing firm committed to advancing the life works of Charles Kuralt.