What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Saying goodbye: tributes to Jim Lehrer from those who knew and loved him best

On Friday, family, friends and the NewsHour community -- both past and present -- said goodbye to one of our co-founders. Jim Lehrer, who died January 23 at the age of 85, was honored with a ceremony at the National United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Here are some remembrances of Jim from those who knew and loved him best.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, family, friends, our "NewsHour" family, past and present, said goodbye to our co-founder Jim Lehrer.

    He died last week at age 85. There was a memorial held today at the National United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. It was a lovely and touching service.

    Here are just a few moments.

  • Lee Cullum:

    Of course, everybody loved Jim Lehrer. We all loved Jim Lehrer.

    And I think the reason is this. He certainly, for me, confirmed something I have always believed, or wanted to believe. And that is that nice guys finish first.

    Let's just say he was disciplined, without overdoing it. He was ambitious without avarice. He was gifted without guile. He was a golden boy who had no goose to lay golden eggs for him. But he was self-made. He was. And he was never self-conscious.

  • Roger Rosenblatt:

    He loved the lives of others. He was devoted to the lives of strangers.

    If you heard Jim's end of a conversation with someone, you couldn't tell whether he was speaking to a Supreme Court justice or to the kid who parked cars at the restaurant, so democratic was his mind and his soul, and so genuine was his interest in others.

  • James Russell Lehrer Nash:

    We were all sitting around in the kitchen, when he got up and told my brother, sister, and I that he was going to teach us how to march like Marines.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • James Russell Lehrer Nash:

    We jumped up immediately and started to follow him.

    He shouted out his march cadence as we trailed behind him in as straight of a line as three kids could manage, which isn't very straight.

    And I remember stretching my legs and listening intently to try and match his stride. Being 7 years old, when I realized I couldn't match him perfectly, I started to jump around and fall out of line. But he continued to march with my siblings in circles until I fell back into step.

    While this may feel like such a small moment, as I look back on it, it exemplifies perfectly how generous my grandfather was with his time.

  • Mary Graham:

    Each Jim decision was a family decision. Time to buy a house? A family consensus would be required. Moderate a presidential debate? Wait a day until I consult with Kate and the girls.

    This is a side of Jim the world didn't see, the creative work that mattered most to him, as Kate's partner in building this strong and enduring family.

    (MUSIC)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was a beautiful service for a beautiful man.

    And before we go tonight, we also wanted to take a little time to hear from some of the producers and correspondents who worked alongside Jim for decades and at the earliest stages of this program.

    Here are a few of their thoughts about Jim, his values and his legacy.

  • Linda Winslow:

    I met Jim in 1972, and the first thing I noticed about him were his eyes.

    I think his eyes were the secret to his success. They were honest eyes. And they said: You can trust me.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    To criticize you personally, is that a crime?

  • Linda Winslow:

    It didn't matter who Jim was interviewing. It didn't matter what the color of their skin was. It didn't matter where they went to school. It didn't matter how much money was in their bank account.

    What mattered was what that person, that unique individual had to say. And when he turned those big brown eyes on you and asked you what was usually a very simple question, you tried very hard to be as open and honest with him as he had been with you.

    I think that's why he was such a great interviewer and also such a great friend.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer.

    On the "NewsHour" tonight…

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    He taught by example, so I learned to watch him. And one of the things I learned from him was that you could have a list of prepared questions, but you had to listen to the person who was being interviewed.

    And so, if they said something you hadn't anticipated, you had to figure out how to pick up on that, because it might have been more important than the question you asked.

  • Annette Miller:

    It was our job to present all sides of the issue, even the shades of gray. He taught me the objectivity of not picking a horse in the race.

    Sometimes, when I was with friends, they would mock me, saying, you treat journalism as some kind of priesthood. And I thought about that. And I said, they were right, because I learned it from the high priest himself.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    The uprising is the catalyst that has brought this situation to wherever it is right now. Would you not agree?

  • Man:

    I would say that's true.

  • Dan Werner:

    Jim Lehrer knew what he wanted. From the start, he and Robin had a sense of the program they wanted to create, and the "NewsHour" was a reflection of what he wanted and who he was.

    Jim wasn't going to let anything get in the way of his journalism, as he defined it and as he wanted to give it to the American people.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    If I hear the two of you correctly, neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout. Is that what you're saying?

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    Well, no, there are going to be things that end up having to be deferred and delayed.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    Like what?

  • Margaret Warner:

    Jim was a hard man to persuade. But if you had earned his trust, he was willing to roll the dice. One of Jim's great gifts as a newsman was that he knew when a story was right and when it wasn't it.

    In early January '11, when protests started breaking out in the Arab world, our overseas reporting unit was totally out of money for the fiscal year.

    Nevertheless, I walked down the hallway to his office a few days into it, and I said: "Jim, I know we're short of money. I think these protests just starting out could really transform, certainly the Middle East, and the world as we know it."

    He asked a couple of questions, and then he gave his characteristic, "I hear you."

    I went back to my office. And half-hour later, word came, get ready to leave for Egypt in the next 36 hours.

  • Nelson Mandela:

    I stand here before you.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    The one time I got a little nervous about Jim's reaction was when F.W. de Klerk announced he was going to release Nelson Mandela. This was back in 1990.

    And I'd already made reservations to go to South Africa. And Jim said, well, the only way he would approve it is if we could guarantee an interview with Mandela.

    Well, I guess it was Jim Lehrer in my blood, because I said, "I will get it."

    And, sure enough, we flew to South Africa, and we got the only one of two half-hour interviews with Mandela.

    Did they do things to you that made you feel like a prisoner?

  • Nelson Mandela:

    Oh, yes.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    House Speaker Foley predicted a budget deal by the weekend.

  • Margaret Warner:

    We called ourselves the "NewsHour" family. And it really was a family.

    And in a time of personal crisis for any of us, there was no more empathetic friend than Jim Lehrer.

  • Dan Werner:

    Jim cared about me. He cared about my family. I took ill in the 1990s, and Jim visited me almost every day in the hospital.

  • Margaret Warner:

    When my husband was diagnosed in the early stages of a crippling disease, I was devastated. I went to see him.

    And he said: "First of all, take all the time you want. Now let's see what we can do to help you."

    Within days, I was connected to some of the top medical people in this field.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    And to our new senior correspondent Gwen Ifill.

    Welcome, Gwen.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Thanks, Jim.

  • Linda Winslow:

    He wasn't afraid of strong women. He was surrounded by them at home, his wife, Kate, and their three beautiful daughters. And he actually pushed very hard to add more women and people of color to the "NewsHour" team, because he believed strongly that diversity is what makes the world go around.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    He and Robin used to say we do news that can be used by people to make their own decisions. He trusted people's intelligence and intellect.

    And I think that's something we need to learn from even today.

  • Annette Miller:

    Jim was a great friend to have. He's exceedingly smart and very funny.

    I know how lucky I was to find a boss and a friend like Jim so early in life. It was a rare and precious gift.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're so thankful to hear from all of these friends and former colleagues.

    Jim truly was our North Star here, and we miss him so much.

Listen to this Segment