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September 11, 2009


This week I attended one memorial service (for CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, at Lincoln Center, on Wednesday) and one funeral mass (for Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne, at Saint Vincent’s Church, yesterday). At the services, attended by many of New York’s leading lights of journalism, the talk was often about the passing of an age, the end of an era, the withering away of their trade and passion among an ever diminishing legion of practitioners: the pursuit of the truth in broadcast news (in Cronkite’s case); the pursuit of justice through commentary, opinion, gossip, and reportage (in Dunne’s).

But on the eve of September 11, I was moved to consider the passing of these two colleagues in terms of their pure humanity, not in terms of their profession’s mortality. Walter Cronkite and Dominick Dunne were both gregarious, curious, probing, candid, singular, peerless, fearless, self-made men. And in the end, despite battling illness, their friends, colleagues, and families chose to recognize the essential joie de vivre, the unbridled enthusiasm for life, that was ingrained in the very fiber of each man.

"[Walter] always wanted to know everything about everything,” Bob Schieffer observed, about his friend, “and he wanted to know it before everyone…. Walter Cronkite loved the news, and we loved Walter Cronkite for it. What a man."

The program for Dunne’s service quoted the poet Kenneth Rexroth, “We were comrades together. Life was good for us. It is good to be brave – nothing is better. Food tastes better. Wine is more brilliant. Girls are more beautiful. The sky is bluer…. If the good days never come, we will not know. We will not care. Our lives were the best. We were the happiest men alive in our day.”

At Cronkite’s ceremony, the U.S. Marine Corps Band played Sousa and Wynton Marsalis led a sextet on a New Orleans-style funeral procession, blasting “When the Saints Go Marching In.” At Dunne’s mass, vocalist Jack Donahue not only sang, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” but also Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” This was the soundtrack of joie de vivre.

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