Goodbye, Ed

So yesterday’s glee was quickly doused by news this afternoon that a journalistic giant, Ed Bradley, had passed away.

I was taken aback, to be honest. I’d no idea he was even sick. It turns out, he’d kept his illness – leukemia – quiet. It was part of his nature not to complain, his colleagues said.

It’s funny. As soon as I was old enough to comprehend, I knew who he was. I’d remember my mom watching 60 Minutes most Sunday nights when I was younger; me sometimes leaving the room because I didn’t have the patience to sit through an entire news show. For many years, I think I’d merely taken him and his contributions for granted. I recently learned my brother loved him, had been watching 60 Minutes for a while and looked forward to seeing him in the opening credits.

Later, when I was in school and really started comprehending the kind of work he did, I thought, there’s no way in this world I could EVER be like him. He was investigative. Cool. Knew how to ask tough questions and get his answers. I remember being in my graduating year, looking at all the internship postings and seeing a posting for a scholarship in his name, for visible minorities. I glanced at it, glanced again, and talked myself out right out of applying – I didn’t think I had a chance.

But I think it was only today that I finally, really, got snatches of insight into what this guy did, and who he was.

The man had been to Vietnam, covering one of the most important stories of the last century. And he almost didn’t make it out alive.

He’d done countless stories and garnered many of well-deserved awards for them. This man was journalism personified. He worked hard. And he made sure that his stories were presented the way he intended: fairly and honestly.

But there was another side to him, the side a lot of people outside the industry seem to forget when they’re too busy cussing out the media for inaccuracy and apparent heartlessness. The man was human. He was a jazz aficianado. He loved food. And, as some of his friends and colleagues recalled tonight, a man with style, no matter what he wore.

But his passing today touched a lot of people, and brought out the human side in his friends in the business. This afternoon, one of the hosts of the network I worked at interviewed one of our senior correspondents in Washington – a big bear of a man – who, as it turned out, knew Bradley for 30 years, and was in (and also trying to get out of) Vietnam during the war with him. I watched and listened to him recall what he was like, what kind of person he was like.

And then, with about 30 seconds left in the interview, I saw it, the most touching scene. The stoic facade, the composure he had maintained for the whole interview, started to crack. His chin wobbled, and his face fought not to pull and crumple into that expression we all make, just as we start to cry. I’m sure he knew he lost one of his best friends before he sat down in the chair. But I think at that moment, suddenly, he really knew, and realization of him no longer behing around hit him all at once. That’s the kind of impression he made.

This evening, I was just thinking about the day, and for some reason, I remembered that one time I had to write an essay as part of my application package to a school here in Toronto. I don’t quite remember the details, but I do remember writing that I wanted to be a messenger of truth – something overdramatic and cliche to that effect.

It turns out a messenger of truth’s been in our midst this whole time. Except today, he was called to deliver his message elsewhere. It was good while it lasted. He’ll be missed.

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