A Fanfare for Peter

The memorial for late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings, held Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, was, in a word, sincere. That was the trait about Jennings most of the speakers spoke to, along with the apparent fact that he was  was an A-1 sentimentalist and a great believer in a moral code to life. His son, Chris Jennings said: “The slightest achievement by his children, or even his dog, could move him to tears.” His daughter, Elizabeth, quoted from a speech Jennings gave for her high school graduation: “Once you are clear what your values are you must always stand up for them.”

The personal glimpses of Jenning were of his compassion and inquisitiveness, and of his straightforward mannner. Many also mentioned his common touch. Alan Alda noted that after a dinner party at Alda’s home, Jennings insisted on helping wash the dishes, at which point Jennings quietly noted, “‘Now that everyone’s gone, [I have to tell] you you should send that wine back where you got it from. It’s a little off.’ That was an example of what Alda said were the contradictions of Jennings’ personality. “He was simple and complex, gracious and direct.”

Alda also told the crowd that Jennings, after becoming a U.S. citizen, always carried a pocket version of the Constitution, and advised Alda to do the same. In fact, staffers bought a bunch of the pocket versions to make sure he had one wherever he was. After Jennings died from cancer on Aug. 7, Alda began carrying one as well.  

Mary Brosnahan Sullivan of the Coalition for the Homeless related how Jennings would often talk to the homeless in Central Park, and how, without fanfare, he went along to help serve hot meals at shelters. “He was the most sincere person I ever met,” she said.

Speakers from ABC included foreign correspondent Charles Glass, World News Tonight producer Tom Nagorski, ABC News President David Westin, and ABC CEO-designate Bob Iger, who said that back in the 70s, when Iger worked for ABC Sports, Jennings gave him advice about how to deal with the executive who at that time ran both ABC News and Sports: “Avoid returning Roone Arledge’s calls,” Iger recalled Jennings telling him. Ted Koppel, noting Jennings good looks, said, “Peter was famously—notoriously—attracted to women. Even so, he only married four.”

The two-hour event featured some spectacular music including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bluegrass star Alison Krauss, and Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry, who performed “A Fanfare for Peter.” The Gates of Praise Choir also performed, ending with a spirited version of “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands)” that got the crowd clapping in rhythm (and served as a nice send off for the anchor in whose hands ABC trusted World News Tonight.)

That crowd was everybody who was everybody, including many ABC News producers, executives and talent, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Viacom’s Leslie Moonves, NBC’s Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and CNN’s Jeff Greenfield.