Remembering Walter Cronkite and Frank McCourt

July 21, 2009

by Neal Shapiro
President & CEO, WNET.ORG

The world said goodbye to two inspiring men this past weekend. Walter Cronkite and Frank McCourt both passed away after long and storied lives full of tremendous accomplishments.

Both of these men made lasting impressions on me.

Walter Cronkite’s evening newscasts were a part of my childhood, and I’m sure they helped fuel my desire to become a journalist. And like most Americans, I was always impressed by his calm and reassuring presence. He never preached and never wanted to be the star of the show. For him, the news the most important thing was the news.

Walter Cronkite’s words brought information and clarity. Frank McCourt’s words had the power to move one to tears. I’ll always remember being so affected by Angela’s Ashes, the literary masterpiece for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The details were so striking and vivid that the images stay with me to this day. Chances are you’ve read the book and know just what I mean.

These two remarkable men had a lot in common. Both were both legends in their fields. Both brought people together with the power of their words. Both connected with popular values and earned the respect of people from all walks of life And, both, I’ll add, were great friends to public television.

Walter was an incredible friend to WNET over the years. He served on the Board of Trustees and was Honorary Chairman of our historic capital campaign back in the 1990s. He produced and host documentaries that we presented to public television viewers nationwide, and, of course, for nearly a quarter of a century, he was the host of our New Year’s Eve concert from Vienna.

For his part, Frank was a true believer in the educational power of public television. In addition to being a great author, he was a lifelong teacher. And we were honored to have him appear as a special guest at our inaugural Celebration of Teaching and Learning back in 2006.

We’ve posted a special tribute to Walter Cronkite here.

And you can watch an interview we did with Frank McCourt here.

We were honored to have these two great men as our friends and colleagues, and we join America in honoring their lives and achievements.