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Colleagues, Friends Honor Walter Cronkite

September 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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President Obama and former President Clinton were among attendees who gathered Wednesday at Lincoln Center in New York to honor Walter Cronkite.

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, a tribute to Walter Cronkite. He was remembered today at a memorial service at Lincoln Center in New York City. Two presidents, along with colleagues and friends, spoke. Here are some excerpts.

BOB SCHIEFFER, host, “Face the Nation”: Walter Cronkite was the most curious man I have ever met. He always wanted to know everything about everything. And he wanted to know it before everyone else knew it.

One day he called me and he asked a question for the first time since I’d been at CBS I could actually answer, and I gave him the answer, and then he said, “Well, thank you, Bob. This old grey head just had a question mark above it.” He really talked that way. I tell you that because Walter Cronkite off-camera was exactly like Walter Cronkite on camera.

BILL CLINTON, former President of the United States: I thought he was an astonishing man. I liked his inquiring mind and his caring heart. And he did something for my family that was so simple, and even now it’s hard for me to talk about.

But in a very tumultuous summer in our personal lives, 1998, we were up on Martha’s Vineyard. And Walter Cronkite picked up his phone. He said, “Betsy and I want you to go sailing with us, you and Hillary and Chelsea. We’ll just go out and sail around.” He said, “Somebody might take a picture of it, but so what?” I’ll never forget that. At the time, I could have done with a picture with Walter Cronkite.

TOM BROKAW, former NBC anchor: He was the godfather who showed us the way to be good journalists, good family men, and good citizens without none of those roles canceling out the others. Also, Walter Cronkite was a seminal force in the transformation of this country. In many ways, Walter Cronkite and all those early pioneers lifted a lamp and showed us the wider world.

BUZZ ALDRIN, astronaut: Flight after flight, Walter was there as a comforting presence when the mission was a success and on those painful times when failure came calling. He talked us all through it all.

In addition to his passion for sailing, our legacy in space was his calling, too. All of us who flew in space are grateful for Walter Cronkite’s belief in science, his dedication to the story, and his commanding presence that made every step in space exciting for Americans of every age. And that’s the way it was, Walter, and always will be.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Walter Cronkite invited the nation to believe in him, and he never betrayed that trust. That’s why so many of you entered the profession in the first place. That’s why the standards he set for journalists still stand.

And that’s why he loved and valued all of you, but we loved and valued Walter, not only as the rarest of men, but as an indispensable pillar of our society.

He’s reunited with his beloved Betsy now, watching the stories of this century unfold with boundless optimism, every so often punctuating the air with a gleeful, “Oh, boy.” We are grateful to him for altering and illuminating our time and for the opportunity he gave to us to say that, yes, we, too, were there.

Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: Walter Cronkite died in July at age 92.