Tim Russert

Who Mentored Tim Russert?

Interview  Watch the video of Tim Russert.

Watch a public service announcement featuring Tim Russert in support ofNational Mentoring Month.

The late Tim Russert was the award-winning managing editor and moderator of Meet the Press and political analyst forNBC Nightly News and NBC’s Today show. He anchored The Tim Russert Show, a weekly interview program on CNBC, and was a contributing anchor for MSNBC as well.

In the seventh grade at St. Bonaventure School in Buffalo, New York, Sister Mary Lucille, a Sister of Mercy, was both impressed and yet concerned by–shall we say–my excessive energy in class. She expressed that in her words, “We have to channel that energy, Timothy,” because I was prone to mischief. One day she told me, “I’m going to start a school newspaper and you’re going to be the editor. This means that you have to give out assignments, you have to edit the copy, you have to write your own articles, you have to go around and interview students, teachers, and administrative people, and publish the paper. You have to distribute it. You have to decide whether you’re going to charge for it, or if you’re going to have a fundraiser to underwrite the cost.” It became this extraordinary project that I threw myself into and so did all my friends. If left us little time to get in trouble because we were so devoted to the paper, called The Bonette after St. Bonaventure School. Then she said, “If you don’t keep up your grades we’re not going to be able to do the second edition of the newspaper.” That made us all committed to studying harder. It became a real class project.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. We did a special edition of the paper and sent a copy to the new president, President Johnson; to Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy; and to Robert Kennedy, the attorney general. Some months later we received personal responses from all of them, which changed our lives. Here we were, only months ago with nothing and wondering whether or not school was worth our while–whether school could be fun, whether school was meaningful–and along came this young nun who created this entity called a school newspaper that we became deeply involved in. We learned how to report, how to communicate, how to write; and then, on top of all that, people we watched on television, people who were so far removed from our ordinary lives, suddenly acknowledged not only our existence, but our work. From that day forward I was determined that I would have a career in journalism/public service…

We continued our newspaper in eighth grade. I was going on to high school and Sister Lucille suggested I go to Canisius High School, the Jesuit school in Buffalo. I said, “Sister, it’s downtown, where all the rich kids go, sons of doctors and lawyers.” My dad was a truck driver and left school in tenth grade to fight in World War II…Sister Lucille insisted that I take the entrance exam, which I did. I won a partial scholarship that helped with the tuition because we couldn’t afford it…

The person who became most important to me at Canisius High School was Father John Sturm, the Prefect of Discipline. He was a former Golden Gloves boxer who entered the Jesuits, and he was tough. He would focus on the few kids who came from the south side of the city–there was only a handful of us from South Buffalo. Once when I got in trouble I said, “Father don’t you have any mercy?” He grabbed me and replied, “Russert, mercy’s for God. I deliver justice.” I remember it like it was yesterday. Although I knew how to write, how to report, how to observe, I learned that unless one has discipline, all of it can be lost, and Father Sturm taught me discipline.

So now I have created the Sister Mary Lucille/Father Sturm Award, a cash prize that is provided to a Buffalo Catholic school teacher each year who has made a difference in a child’s life by acting as a mentor…

I know that if I had not had the intervention and support of Sister Lucille and Father Sturm, I would not be the moderator of Meet the Press.

Excerpted from The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans Recall Their Mentors. Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Editor, with foreword by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.