Two lives of note ended last week, only one, however, were most people aware of.
When Peter Jennings, 67, died, it felt almost like a death in the family. I’m part of the Huntley-Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite generation, and I still appreciate a familiar, professionally reassuring, nightly network anchor presence.
To me, Tom Brokaw was better on the “Today Show,” and Dan Rather belonged on “60 Minutes.” But Peter Jennings, the suave, long-time anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” was the quintessential pro. He was a self-taught student of world events who never stopped learning or listening.
Even as America would periodically turn inward and network news operations looked to cut costs, Jennings always made the case for the big, international picture – and requisite staffing. In the worst of times, he was at his unflappable best.
By definition, the “news” will be the unexpected, which is often the unpleasant. Jennings made the best of it.
That other life was that of a friend and former colleague, Ron Faig, 55. Until his retirement a few years ago, Ron was the broadcast specialist in USF’s Office of Media Relations. He was technologically savvy and knew everybody on campus. He was very good at what he did. He was also a pretty good jazz guitarist and a devoted father to his daughter Sarah.
But that’s like saying Abe Lincoln was a lawyer. It still doesn’t tell you nearly enough.
More than half a century ago, Ron just missed the onset of the polio vaccine-era. As a result, he spent his last 53 years in a wheelchair. He was always taken aback by photos that showed him in his first two years. He never remembered walking.
Ron’s body was frail, his braces were heavy and there was nothing routine about any part of his daily regimen.
Except this: He made everybody he came into contact with better for having met him. Few leave a more impressive legacy.
He was dealt a cruel hand. Many – or most – of us might have adopted a “Why me?” attitude throughout life that would have been self-limiting. It wasn’t Ron’s way. If he would never play the victim card, who could?
He also was hilariously politically incorrect and loved defying stereotypes. He also appreciated the therapy of a good pun.
I’ll not forget the first time I met Ron. He came rolling out of his cramped office of monitors, speakers, microphones, cameras, wires and wobbly cassette stacks. “I am,” he said by way of introduction and grasping his wheels, “the real USF spokesman.”
In so many ways, he was.