Friends, family honor Jennings at NY memorial

With music he loved and stories of his devotion as a father and his work on behalf of the homeless, family and friends said goodbye to Peter Jennings on Tuesday with a memorial service that brought laughter and tears in memory of the ABC News anchor.

The two-hour service brought 2,000 people to Carnegie Hall, not only almost every big name in broadcast journalism, past and present, but also notables from Hollywood and politics, a fellow tennis player and the president of a homeless-aid group for which Jennings volunteered in New York.

"Peter's life was incredibly full--full of adventure, full of learning, full of teaching, full of love," said Dr. Tim Johnson, the ABC News medical correspondent who grew even closer to Jennings during his illness. Jennings died August 7 after a five-month battle with lung cancer.

Several speakers recalled Jennings' two-decade-long stretch as one of the Big Three anchors and one of the most powerful journalists in the country. But more striking--and much more prevalent--were reminiscings by family and friends of the times he spent off the air. Personal snapshots of Jennings--always handsome, always full of life and often with a wry smile--flashed on a screen throughout. The speakers painted a picture of a man fiercely devoted to his two children, Christopher and Elizabeth, and to his marriage to Kaycee Freed.

"Ultimately he would judge his own success over how good a father he was to Chris and Lizzie," ABC News president David Westin said.

Near the end of the service, Christopher and Elizabeth Jennings brought the most poignant tributes to their father.

"The same qualities that made him a great journalist made him the parent he was," said Christopher, who told of his father's sense of awe at the world, his inquisitive nature and his deep sentimentality.

"The slightest achievement by his children, or even his dog, could wet his eyes," he said. "Even the sound of bagpipes tuning up could make him cry."

World News Tonight senior broadcast producer Tom Nagorski, a longtime friend and associate, also recalled Jennings' emotionalism and touching gestures even while he was frail from illness. Nagorski read from a letter his daughter Natalie received from Jennings in response to the get-well card she made and sent to him. Jennings wrote that the colors on the card "really cheered me up... Whenever an adult is sick, there is nothing quite as good as a young person's kindness to make them feel better."

Nightline host Ted Koppel recalled Jennings' magnetism to both men and women and his simple act of kindness to a homeless man the two encountered years ago on 67th Street in Manhattan. They both contributed money to the man, but Jennings did more.

"Peter stayed and talked to the man for about 10 minutes," Koppel said. "He asked about his life and listened."

Jennings didn't talk about it much, but he was "a great friend to homeless New York," recalled Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director of New York-based Coalition for the Homeless.

Sullivan called Jennings "someone of concrete action" who often rushed out the door after the end of World News Tonight to deliver hot meals to the needy or to visit with the homeless in the flophouses of the Bowery section of Manhattan. He did that without attention and listened and spoke to the people he encountered.

"He knew instinctively that homeless people were first and foremost people," Sullivan said.

Mourners heard the sound of bagpipes, courtesy of two members of the NYPD Emerald Society, at the beginning of the service. They were escorted by two tan-hatted and red-jacketed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of many nods to Jennings' Canadian heritage. Fiddle, string and jazz music filled the service played by Canadian fiddler Natalie MacMaster, musician Alison Krauss, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz greats Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry.

Elizabeth Jennings said it was hard not to have Jennings there. "Without him, I find myself stumbling around in the dark," she said. She recalled her father's speech at her high school graduation as well as lines from Romeo and Juliet, once used as a eulogy to President John F. Kennedy by his brother, Robert: "Take him and cut him out in little stars/and he will make the face of heav'n so fine/that all the world will be in love with night/and pay no worship to the garish sun."

"He was famously, almost notoriously attractive to women," Koppel recalled. "Even so, he only married four of them." That drew a laugh from the audience; Koppel said that each of the four women played a key role in Jennings' life, especially Kati Marton, the mother of his two children, and Kaycee, who took care of him through his illness and passing.

Journalists in attendance included Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, Brian Williams, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, Steve Capus, Jim Murphy, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Aaron Brown, Jonathan Klein, Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. Others included Alan Alda, author Tom Wolfe, top Disney executives Michael Eisner and Bob Iger, talk-show host Larry King and Barry Diller.

Alda said his friend Jennings was a "truly authentic person" and added: "He was complex and simple at the same time. He was knowledgeable and inquisitive. He was kind and tough, all at the same time. He was graceful and direct."

He pointed to a dinner party where Jennings stayed to help wash the dishes at Alda's house, then said: "Now that everyone's gone, if I were you I would send that wine back where you got it, it's a little off." Then Alda said, remembering, "Graceful and direct."

Morton "Skip" Goldfein talked about his friend's grace and competitiveness on the tennis courts, his devotion to speaking with disadvantaged children in the tough Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, and his connection to people no matter what walk of life.

He recalled an event at Lincoln Center: "One minute, he was talking with the director of Lincoln Center and then he was helping a waitress serve wine."

Comments (2)
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Sep 22, 2005
Such a Loss....
Sep 21, 2005
I met Peter Jennings in Toronto, Canada about 10 years ago. He gave me one minute to talk and it was the best conversation I had ever had.

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