Sometime on Saturday, February 28, 2009, American broadcasting legend Paul Harvey passed away at the age of 90, surrounded by family, in a hospital near Phoenix, Arizona. Cause of death has not been released.
In one respect, Paul Harvey’s daily news and commentary broadcasts formed the pulse of my life growing up. Everyone in my family avidly listened to him and it was easy to see why. He brought an easy-going approach to the text he was reading that inspired confidence (and loyalty.) Whether you agreed with his opinions or not did not matter; the manner in which he presented them always underscored the sense in his viewpoint.
I still remember his long-running program feature that honored the longest-lasting marriage that was celebrating an anniversary that day. Often these were couples who had been married for sixty to seventy years or more. Most of the time, these couples lived either on the family farm that had been in the family for generations, or in small farming towns.
At times, one got the impression that the state of Nebraska had a monopoly on very long-lasting marriages. So listeners began writing in to him, asking if this was the case, and if, so, could anyone explain it? Sure enough someone responded from Nebraska, and explained it in this manner. Thousands of people hold season tickets to University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Football games year after year. Some even indicate in their wills who is to receive the tickets after they pass on. Well, since the same people sit in the same seats every year, of course couples are going to stay married. After all, if they got a divorce, at the games, they would be stuck sitting next to each other, perhaps for a good many years.
That explanation may have some seeds of truth to it. However, I feel it is the strong presence of the family farm in the state that encourages long marriages. On the traditional family farm, when something broke, or quit working like it should, the family fixed it, got it working again, and moved on to the next task at hand. Thus, when a farm family marriage encountered a rough patch, the couple knew they were expected to fix it. So they did.
In the area of general news reporting and features presentation, I see radio as having only three true legends who deserved the tag of “great.” Lowell Thomas described far away, exotic places so accurately and vividly that it was easy to see each place come to life in one’s mind was the first. Edward R. Murrow, with his well-modulated bass voice reporting on World War II (or whatever) in the same calm, somewhat deadpan delivery, was the second. Paul Harvey was the third. Now all three have passed from the scene. Their kind will never be heard from again.
Mr. Harvey impressed me as a rare broadcaster, in the sense that, whether I agreed with the political stance he was taking or not, I always respected the position he was taking. On issues or positions he felt strongly about, he always spoke from the heart with immense sincerity. In 1974, during the depths of the Watergate scandal that took down President Nixon, I switched my party loyalty from the Republican to the Democratic party. Even after my switch, his unwavering support of, and friendship with, many Republican office holders never bothered me.
In 1976 he began his daily five minute (or so) “The Rest of the Story” features that brought to light some notable event or historical fact about some well-known person. In his trademark style, each program proceeded with a tightly written, chronological narrative that withheld the identity of the person to whom the piece was about until the end of the account. He always closed each installment with “And now you know . . . the rest of the story.”
With his passing, yet another major chunk of my past fades from the scene. Inside I do feel a bit of a hole right now for he was a link to my happiest memories. Indeed, upon reading of his death, first at cnn.com and then later at the Tucson Arizona Star website, I found the immortal words of English cleric and poet John Donne rising back into my awareness. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. . . .any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Tonight, all who grew up hearing his broadcasts are at least a little bit diminished.
My thoughts go out to his family and friends. May they know the peace, comfort and support they need in their time of loss.