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Funeral for Roone Arledge Underway in New York

Aired December 9, 2002 - 11:13   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to stay in New York, though, where Mr. Lenzner is and go back to the funeral right now underway in St. Bartholomew's church there with the folks there.
As you see, Barbara Walters now, remembering Roone Arledge.


BARBARA WALTERS: ... the last time that he was really able to talk, I think perhaps the very last time that he did have a conversation outside of the family was with you, Frank. And what did we talk about on this last conversation? Well, Roone had said that he had had almost too much time to watch television and he finally had decided that there were just too many commercials. Roone had never worried about the bottom line.

When you talk about Roone, Gigi had said to me, please let people know how funny he was. So Gigi, I remember when Roone and I decided to go to Washington after Jimmy Carter was defeated to pay our respects. And we were on the shuttle, and I said that I never really felt comfortable in Washington, that to me it was like a foreign city. And Roone said, oh Washington's not so bad. You just have to be careful not to drink the water.

Roone didn't just change ABC sports and ABC news. He really did change each of us. Actually, he didn't bring me to ABC. I had known Roone 40 years ago. I was a producer, young producer at the local NBC station, WNBC TV. I did a program called "Ask the Camera," God knows how I remember, and Roone was the director. Can you imagine having Roone as the director of your local program? But there he was -- our studio was way uptown and he used to drive up every day in a convertible with the top down even in the winter, and he was just as eccentric 40 years ago. And I mean, he still didn't do the phone calls and so forth, but how could I ever forget that red hair and how could I ever forget that name Roone, especially since I didn't pronounce my "R"s too well.

So then I came over from NBC to become the first female co-anchor of a network news program, which was a dubious distinction in those days. And my then partner, Harry Reasoner and I were simply terrible, and we were drowning. And then Roone took over ABC News, and he could have kept Harry and dropped me, and instead he took a chance. He sent Harry back to CBS, and he set me on my feet. I traveled all over the world for Roone, and I worked my way back. Roone, simply put, saved my career. Roone Arledge was my life preserver.

And I too want to talk about the people for whom this service is actually dedicated. To Roone's four children, Elizabeth, who we all call Betsy, and Susan and Patricia, whom we call Toddy (ph), and Roone, junior, the boss, and your wonderful, wonderful children. Each of you were so individual and so special in his eyes. And beautiful, self-effacing Gigi, who, because she is French, didn't know a touchdown from a home run. I don't think she ever learned, but it never mattered, because Gigi and Roone, as different as they were, were soul mates. For ten years of their marriage, she adored Roone, not the fame and not the prestige. I think she was surprised this weekend to find out what an enormous influence Roone Arledge really was. Roone simply adored her husband.

And for five of those ten years, Roone was in ill health. He never felt that it was a burden to Gigi, because it never was a burden to Gigi. And through his long illness, through the many weeks at the hospital, she never, and I mean never, left his side. And now, Gigi, he will be at your side.

Thursday night, Ted did a special edition of "Nightline." He was in Baghdad and Peter was in San Francisco, and I was in New York, and Ted asked us for our final thoughts. And this was mine. When Roone was the head of ABC News, there was a telephone in every control room only for calls from Roone, and it was called the Roone phone. And the greatest thrill for any of us was when that phone rang, and it was Roone saying, Great job. And the biggest disappointment for any of us was when that phone rang and Roone said. Not such a good job. And now, Roone is gone, and that phone will never ring again.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: I hadn't turned around before, some reunion. And there are so many stories in this congregation. The good, the bad, and let's be polite about it at least today, the downright eccentric. The man was no saint. But look around you. Had Roone not been as interesting and compelling and complicated, surely so many of us wouldn't be here.

It is nice to hear today that mostly we have passed the truth test. The public is always asking those of us who appear on television at difficult times, what, if anything, causes us to lose our balance? And for me, I think it is realizing that when I first saw Roone junior boss and Susie and Toddy (ph) and Betsy, they were so very young. And I realized last night talking to them and to Bob Brown and Dawn Allmyer (ph) and Carol Grisanti (ph) and Larry Cam (ph), Terry Jastro (ph), Larry Cam (ph) is directing this today -- he did the Tour de France and he can probably handle this -- but I realized that all of us, including Ted, who like me used to be young, that we were all young with Roone. And he made life and work so exciting, and he made everything seem so possible.

Ted and I were talking about him a couple weeks ago, and Ted said I thought there was a hint of regret in his voice, he really loved Gifford. I said no, no, he loved us. We were like his kids, even though he wasn't that much older. And now, of course, I realize that he loved all of us at one time or another. That's what they mean by the Roone bubble.

Oh, the things that we used to say behind his back. Oh the things he used to say behind our backs. Frank made the point earlier on, what sort of fun do you think Roone would have had today putting together the order of speakers? You're right, Diane ahead of Barbara, maybe Ted ahead of Peter. We all knew at one time or another, there was, as Ted pointed out, a special place in the Arledge firmament. What made it fun was that the firmament was always changing. But what I have figured out, thanks to Joan Gans Kooney (ph) today, he never answered the phone because it might have been one of us on the other end. Bob Brown is one of the best writers in television. He was the first person in the news division ever hired by Roone, 25 years ago, and he never had five minutes with Roone until Hugh Downs' retirement party in 2000 -- the rest of you too, huh? -- but they were, he says, indelible moments.

And how many of us remember those moments and the one thing that I think every-- a lot of people in this place know today is that he penetrated deep into our craft, not just with the on-air people, but with the editors, the camera operators, the producers, even the researchers. I shared Munich with him, which of course gave all of us who were there a special bond. Second, or third day I think I was there on leave from my post in the Middle East, Durance Smith (ph), then an associate producer I think in sports, came up to me, and said, What's your shoe size? And I said, Why? And he said, Because, well, Roone is sending me on a Gucci run. Everybody in sports wear Guccis. But not down to the local corner right? Not down to the Gucci dealer in Munich. He sent Durance (ph) to Italy.

Roone never did anything halfway, and there are so many stories in this place. Looking back, as we've all done, it was clearly in Munich that Roone staked his claim to the news division. After the fateful day when the Israelis died, John Wilcox (ph). then a producer, went on to "American Sportsman," and I did a 40-minute retrospective on the crime. And we took it to the ABC News president at the time. and said you've got to get this on the air. Take it to Roone, he said, acknowledging his lack of clout at the time. Roone said he would put it on right after the Soviet/American basketball game. Now, a lot of you remember that that game ended in such high drama that the sports folks could have talked all night. But after a decent interval, Roone said I have a commitment to news, and he put it on.

And I really wonder all these years later why Koppel and I went to the head of the network sometime later to say that under no circumstances should Roone Arledge ever be allowed to run the news division. I think it was Koppel's idea. The man had no bounds. God, we were arrogant. And Roone knew of course, and in time, he forgave us.

Frank and Barb and Ted and I have all mentioned it. We're so glad I think, all of us, that at the end, we had time to be with him. Because it meant that Roone finally acknowledged his own frailty and was no longer embarrassed or afraid to be seen as vulnerable.

And ten days ago in the hospital just Roone and me and Gigi, I was reminded of two things. One -- and Frank reminded us again today that golf was a deeper passion than I had believed and that I was only so interesting. I thought I'd engage him in conversation and thought I had, and suddenly he said, good putt. And I realized that over my shoulder he had been looking at the golf on the television set. He could always see, Roone, as we know, so many things at once.

I was once quoted in an article, accurately, saying that he was a good boss, as in an okay boss, but a great leader. And he sent me a note which said tersely, that he would appreciate it if I never discussed him in public again. I hate doing so under these circumstances. He was impossible, but he was wonderful.

HARRIS: You've been listening to a remarkable array of people remembering, a remarkable man. Roone Arledge, an ABC executive who passed away last week is being funeralized in Saint Bartholomew's church in New York, as you see here. And we've been hearing some very notable people, Peter Jennings, last among them, Barbara Walters, as well as Ted Koppel, all of them remembering Roone Arledge, telling stories that make him a human being that those of us who really didn't know him, but knew of him and knew of the innovations that he brought to television, it's been like sitting around listening to these very famous folks talk about an cherished, munificent uncle that they all shared.


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