Few of us are lucky enough to have worked with greatness, but I have. Way back during my hard-boiled drunk librarian days, I was fortunate enough to work near, and frequently with, Andrew Rooney at CBS News. Eight years. After all that time, the worst boss I ever had in my life fired me. Eh...everyone should get fired at least once in their life, it builds character, teaches lessons and I deserved it.
Mr. Rooney was a brilliant writer from my father's generation, and he would have liked my father. Both served with distinction during the real war, when boys truly were men. Shipped off at 18 to save the world, literally, and they did. There are very few men left from that war.
Rooney was a journalist when it mattered. I don't think he ever filed a story from a press release in his life, and If that makes any of you "journalists" left feel a bit guilty, good. Shame on you and your like. Andy found his way onto the other side of the camera, but what he really was, and is still, is a damn good writer. A serious, clever, inquisitive writer with probably ten best-sellers under his belt.
Rooney, I believe, is 92, and his last regular piece for 60 minutes will air this Sunday. I'll be watching. During my stint at CBS, I enjoyed more than anything having Andy grump his way towards me to ask for something. What he wanted was help finding a dozen pictures of Muhammad Ali, or the population of some president's hometown, or the amount of money spent on turkey sandwiches during an average year. Once a week or so, the whole 8 years I was there, Andy would come in and challenge me and the rest of the staff with odd requests.
One time Andy asked me a question about E. B. White. I asked what he wanted to know about Charlotte's Web. He stared me right in the eye, and with probably the most gruffness he could muster said "E.B. White wrote the greatest essay about New York City" and stomped away. He was right, and I gave that little book away to friends in the city as birthday presents for the next 15 years.
I remember when he showed me the desk he had made by hand. It is still in his office and I will miss seeing it on 60 Minutes. I remember his typewriter, and when he reluctantly switched to a crappy Wang computer. I remember every year he would walk in carrying a huge box of Vidalia onions to share. He did a story on them once and received a box every season.
A year or two later, I ran into Andy on West 57th Street while I was on my way to the park for a run. I took to running seriously after being fired...and was down a good 15 or 20 pounds from my CBS days. I had that emaciated look of a good runner. Andy took one look at me and said "Jim? Are you okay?" As I hadn't had to wake up in the morning for 8 months, by choice...I told him I sure was great, chatted a bit and headed up to the park.
A few months later, I realized Mr. Rooney had looked at me and feared I had acquired AIDS. At the time, my city was being ravaged by the disease, and unfortunate, withered men were a common sight on the street. Andy cared enough for me to ask.
For years after leaving CBS I always thought the last time I would see anyone from there was at Andy's funeral, which I would have done my best to attend out of my deep respect for the man, but he fooled me. He never died.
It has been some 20 years since I worked at CBS. I still have nightmares about it, but then I still have nightmares about high school. I have knocked around quite a bit since then, but few people I worked with had such an impact on me, and I would like to thank him somehow. The best thing I can do is put him here right next to a photo of E. B. White.
Originally my tribute to co-worker Andrew Rooney, now, a month later, a Tribute to his Life.