It shouldn't have been a surprise, given his announcement just a few months ago, but I am stunned by Peter Jennings' death. I was to interview Peter for my upcoming book, a biography of Elmer W. Lower. The former president of ABC News, Lower hired Jennnings at ABC in 1964 -- even made him anchor of the ABC Evening News for a few years. Given his hectic schedule, Jennings deferred an interview until I had a publisher. After signing a contract with the University of Missouri Press, the first chance I figured I'd get was during the summer of 2005. My requests in January went unanswered, and by March it became clear why.
I had spoken with or met Jennings on four previous ocassions. I first met him in 1985, when I proudly told him that I was also a Canadian. As he shook my hand, he tilted his head and asked, "Oh really? Where?" When I told him Saskatchewan, the Ontario native shot back, "That's not part of Canada!"
In 1988 he graciously granted an interview for my Master's thesis, on U.S. network television of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. That same year, I met him while I was covering the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. He introduced me to his then-wife, Kati Marton, and to legendary anchorman David Brinkley. Then, in 1994, I watched a "World News Tonight" broadcast just a few feet away from the anchor desk. After the broadcast, I noted that Jennings had that rare talent to make one feel as though he is giving an individual his full attention, giving the impression that he would rather not talk to anyone else, and then gracefully extricate himself -- all within a matter of two minutes. I still use his scripts from that broadcast at the beginning of each semester in my television news producing class.
He will be missed.