Up Close and Personal with News Legend Tom Brokaw
Recently I had the pleasure of spending some one-on-one time with TV broadcast news legend, Tom Brokaw. He was being honored as one of the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award winners, during ceremonies in Memphis on December 2nd. Since my role at FedEx is to oversee the FedEx sponsorship of that event with the museum, it was part of my job to accompany him on the flight to Memphis. (Other honorees were journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who happens to be a close friend of Brokaw’s, Activist/Educator Bob Moses and Baseball Pioneer Frank E. Robinson)
This was a particularly impactful assignment for me because before joining FedEx, I spent nearly 20 years as an anchor/reporter for a Memphis television station.
Brokaw is best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. During his career, he covered Watergate, the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. In addition to his historic reign in the anchor seat, Tom Brokaw produced many specials for NBC, including 2001’s “The Greatest Generation Speaks,” based on his best-selling 1998 book, The Greatest Generation.
I tried not to pester him with questions, since he mentioned he had some work he needed to take care of. But after a while, we did talk, and I commented that he seems as busy in retirement as he was when he was on the air full time. He said he has to stay busy. Not only is that his work ethic, it’s one way of coping with serious illness. He announced back in August of 2013 that he had been diagnosed with myeloma, cancer of the blood cells found in bone marrow. He’s working on a new book, prompted by his cancer experiences. The book is not so much about his cancer struggle, but more about how families need to prepare for the possible cancer diagnosis of a loved one – who will handle caregiving, what about transportation for medical appointments, long-term care, etc. Although his cancer is incurable, he said he’s managing it with chemo and other treatments. The book will be coming out in the next couple of months.
He’s also working on a documentary with actress Angelina Jolie, about her new movie “Unbroken”. And he continues to do special reports for NBC.
I asked if he ever kept in touch with any of the newsmakers he used to cover. He said yes, all the time. For example, recently he had dinner in New York with Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger.
I was dying to know if he ever got annoyed by the many comedians who imitate him. He chuckled and said, “No, I actually think it’s kind of flattering. As long as it’s not mean-spirited, I don’t mind.”
We talked about a few other things, family, kids, our mutual struggles with learning all the features on an iPad.
For a news legend, Tom Brokaw was a very personable, down to earth regular guy who looks forward to his granddaughter’s dance recital and doesn’t even mind indulging people like me with a selfie.
It was an experience I’ll never forget.
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