Family, friends and a veritable who’s-who of television news turned out Tuesday morning to remember legendary 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, who died last month at the age of 93.
The memorial, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, featured video tributes to Wallace fond stories from his colleagues like CBS Chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager, 60 Minutes correspondents Steve Kroft and Morley Safer, producers Robert G. Anderson and James Greenfield and his grandson Wallace Bourgeois. Barbara Cook sang “Here’s to Life” accompanied by a pianist.
Plenty of notable TV newsers were in attendance, including CBS News president David Rhodes and VP of programming Chris Licht, CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose, former CBS News president Sean McManus, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and anchor Bret Baier, CNN managing editor Mark Whitaker, Dateline executive producer David Corvo, and former Anderson EP Jim Murphy. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann were even among the crowd, having appeared on CBS This Morning earlier in the day.
But the cap off to the service was a moving speech from Wallace’s son Chris, the Fox News Sunday anchor, who choked back tears several times as he spoke of his late father, recalling his sometimes-difficult demeanor and their own rocky relationship.
“Let’s be honest. At some point over the years, many people in this room were not speaking to my father,” he said to laughs in the packed theater.
He recalled his own exasperating experience, when in the fall of 1997 he was working for ABC News’ Primetime and was set to do an interview with Chris Rock when the comedian suddenly backed out an hour before the interview because 60 Minutes had suddenly decided to do a profile of Rock. In the heated phone call that followed, Chris asked his dad who was more important to him, Chris Wallace or Chris Rock — which was met with a long pause. Mike eventually gave up interview for himself, but kept it for a 60 Minutes colleague.
“Why was someone who could be so exasperating so endearing?” Chris said he has asked himself since his father’s passing, before finding the answer. “Yes he could be difficult, even impossible, but we all knew that deep down he had a good heart, he was a nice man. He could certainly be naughty, even bad, but he wasn’t mean.”
He acknowledged that it took a long time for the two to develop a true father-son relationship. Only growing close when Chris was going through a divorce about 20 years ago.
“Growing up as Mike Wallace’s son was not easy, and some of the qualities that made him a great reporter made him a pain in the neck at home” he said. “He was pursuing his career, and I spent my early years trying to get out from his shadow.”
But he also noted “He was the best journalist I’ve ever known,” and with a solitary salute to his father’s photograph displayed on stage, said “so long.”