Despite being a generation after him, I was convinced that I took Driver’s Ed in the same car with the same instructor as Tim Russert had. Being Buffalo, we stretched resources and there was no point in using a new car for Driver’s Ed if the Chevy Impala, despite it being decades old was still useful. That was good enough for Canisius High School and Buffalo. The nine-fingered Industrial Arts teacher who taught Driver’s Ed to me as his second or third job from Canisius’ parking lot across the street from the sister school where I attended – Nardin Academy – was also Russert’s teacher in the 1960s, I’m sure of it.
When Russert autographed my copy of “Big Russ and Me” at his signing at Barnes & Noble’s Union Square store here in NYC three years ago I told him I was a Nardin girl. He looked up from the stack of books he was signing and extended his hand to mine to shake it. “You were well educated,” he said. I know he meant I was as well educated by the French sisters in my school as he was by the Jesuit priests across the street, not by the Driver’s Ed course I’m sure we shared once they let us girls take the class (if not learn to drive) at the boys’ school.
I was shocked when the NY Times alert hit my In Box this afternoon after 3PM. I’ve avoided the television since that news because the mawkish pablum I expected to witness would not only make his death real but would wrap this improvising man with a too-tight ribbon.
He made it out of Buffalo and made it big. Each native Buffalonian felt nothing but pride that this South Buffalo boy made it so far. I was born in North Buffalo, far from the factories and mills and blue collar life of South Buffalo. But the snobbery that was my neighbors’ to claim was justifiably laughable later on when we saw how far Russert went on his own brilliance and excellence. I left the city at an age younger than Russert’s when he left, but like it or not one of the tattoos that Buffalo leaves on its native born is the phrase, “Fairness First.” He and his career embodied that.
We were so proud of him. He got out and look how far one of our own went. It’s a comfort that the nation saw the best of our native city, and the world saw the best of our nation in him.