Resident Remembers Peter Jennings

September 30, 2005

HIS untimely death last month brought about a eulogy from the President of the United States, tributes from the international media, and laments from viewers accustomed to his TV presence in their living rooms.From Los Angeles, the Emmy Awards recently paid homage to his talent, while New York honored him with a memorial church service and a concert at Carnegie Hall. Here was a man who had earned the respect and affection of countless people.Whether he was reading the news from his ABC anchor desk or reporting from foreign trouble spots, Canadian-born newsman Peter Jennings projected the image of a gentleman – urbane and eloquent, yet friendly and caring.That image accurately reflected the man I knew in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Peter and I worked on camera in the early 1960s at CJOH-TV, a station that debuted as a spirited alternative to the stale, regional viewing fare of that time. Although Jennings favored the news department at CJOH, he participated as well in daytime shows, some of which I hosted. Those were the days of largely unscripted, spontaneous programming, often on live shows where we could either sink or swim and we did both.ONE short-lived program involved telephone calls from viewers to the on-air personalities. A well-meaning woman phoned in to say that she had seen Peter and a certain Miss X at a nightspot, behaving like the perfect, loving couple. The suave Mr. Jennings almost choked on the compliment, and we all knew why: Miss X turned out to be Mrs. X, and somewhere out there was a Mr. X who was bound to hear about his wife’s escapade.Despite his early reputation as a ladies’ man, Peter actually had an old-fashioned streak in him. Once, he confided to me his vision of the feminine “ideal” – a well groomed woman wearing a tailored wool dress of proper knee-length and a string of cultured pearls. We were good enough pals that he could tease me about being a fashion disaster in slacks, or skirts that showed too much thigh. Dressing appropriately showed respect for one’s work and one’s self, he insisted. Many a colleague, male or female, received a wardrobe critique from dear Peter, who only meant to help. It was a funny trait of his, and kind of endearing.Wardrobe issues aside, Peter always tried to promote people whose work he liked, which made him a rarity in the competitive world of television. After settling into his ABC news job in New York in the mid-1960s, he tried to find a spot for me in the Big Apple when a reporting job opened up; however, I had already embarked on another TV venture in Toronto.Before the onset of the ’70s, Peter flew back to Ottawa for a 24-hour CJOH reunion in the form of an on-air telethon. Most of the original performers, myself included, had long departed the station, so the sentimentality on this occasion was thick as chowder, shared by a studio audience and viewers at home. Peter delighted in joining his former colleagues to once again do television “by the seat of our pants.” He treasured his beginnings, and never forgot his down-home roots.YEARS later, when I become a U.S. citizen and moved to Manhattan, Peter and I had our own little reunion there. He invited me to his ABC office to share in his daily routine, insisting that I stay on for his evening newscast. This was before the newer facilities were completed, and although viewers couldn’t tell, his temporary broadcast studio was a cramped little room with a desk jammed in it. Because it was air-conditioned to polar temperatures that aggravated my chest cold, I wanted to wait outside, but Peter insisted I sit beside him while he delivered that evening’s “World News Tonight.” Of course the camera would be on him alone, so the viewers would be none the wiser.I protested that with my cold I might cough during his newscast, to which he replied, with typical humor, “Well, that will be the cough heard ’round the world!”It’s difficult to accept that this vital man is suddenly gone. These little memory montages have flickered across the screen in my mind as I bid a final goodbye to Peter Jennings. And now, as they say in the business, fade to black.Former Canadian television personality Patricia Martin is now a freelance writer living in Sabanilla, east of San José.

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