He was once dubbed “the most trusted public figure in America.”
He was a familiar face to many households not only in the United States but all over the world. His face was part of the dinner scene in countless families, including mine – at least in the later years of his stint as CBS anchorman – as he delivered the evening news.
And to many countless others, he was simply “Uncle Walter.”
He officially retired from his illustrious broadcasting career in 1981 when he delivered his trademark sign-off, “and that’s the way it is,” followed by the day’s date.
Twenty-five years later, in the fall of 2006 – Nov. 6, to be exact – he was still as popular as ever. Proof of that was his special appearance at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. Admission was by free tickets only which were limited to just about 900. The Faye Spanos Concert Hall was packed.
I was one of the lucky ones who snagged a ticket. I also made it a point to arrive early to make sure I found a good vantage point to capture some good shots of the revered journalist. Fortunately, I found a good seat in the balcony. My digital Canon and 50-500 mm lens, thankfully, did not disappoint.
It was something to hear and watch the venerable anchorman on television. It was something else to actually see him in person, being interviewed and not the other way around this time, by none other than then-Pacific President Don DeRosa, who just recently retired from his post. The interview was set up like a fireside chat in the Faye Spanos Concert Hall complete with two easy chairs, a coffee table, and a pair of tall lamps behind each chair.
Some people look different in person from their photographs or even the persona that they project on TV, which is the case with a few newscasters I’ve had the pleasure to meet. With Cronkite, what you saw on TV is what you got in person. It was the same dignified face, the sharp eagle-like eyes. But the shocking bushy white eyebrows were – well, shocking – particularly when seen through my zoom lens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more unique set of snow-white eyebrows.
But those were the superficial things. The real treat during the hour-and-a-half fireside chat were the commentaries, the thoughts and observations shared by Cronkite to his captive audience. The conversation he had with the university president, and the Q&A with the audience that followed, could have lasted another two hours as far as I was concerned, and I’m sure with many of those in the audience. That’s how engaging he was. One of the many highlights of the conversation was Cronkite’s answer to one of DeRosa’s questions – which figure in history he would have liked to have interviewed if he had the opportunity. Cronkite’s answer: Hitler.
At the end of the program, I was about to walk to my car when I had the idea of trying to see if I could meet the anchorman in person before his handlers whisked him away. I found out which exit he was going to take and proceeded to go behind the Concert Hall.
I did not have to wait long. He was coming out of the back door by the time I got there. After taking a few more pictures while he talked to a young university student and signed an autograph, I stepped up and introduced myself. He did not display any signs of impatience even as I noticed some of the people around him getting impatient. As a last thought, I asked if he could autograph my admission ticket and he gladly complied.
And that’s the way it was when I met the great Walter Cronkite in person on Nov. 6, 2006.
To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail email@example.com or call (209) 249-3536.