The NBC news legend shares the story of his greatest achievement: winning the heart of his wife, Meredith
The first time I saw Meredith she was a snapshot in the trombone case of my summer camp counselor roommate. That romance didn’t last but the photo made an impression, so when, unexpectedly, I moved to Meredith’s hometown that fall, I recognized her immediately as one of my new classmates.
She was more than pretty, smart, a straight arrow, and we quickly became good friends. She was captain of the cheerleaders and I was a jock. We were class officers, shared leads in the school plays and were elected to statewide honors – but never dated, in part because Meredith was appropriately wary of my roving eye.
That changed some during college, but while Meredith continued her success story – Miss South Dakota, scholastic honors, all-around popularity – I went in the other direction, eventually dropping out, in deep denial about the consequences of too many parties, girls and booze.
She began refusing my calls and eventually wrote a strongly worded letter saying, in effect, “I am not interested in someone who is at such a dead end and who is such a disappointment to his family and everyone around him.”
It was a BIG wake-up call. I got a job in a local television newsroom and began commuting to school while working full time. My grades and deportment improved markedly but I had given up on Meredith, until one day she approached me and said she had been out of line to write such a harsh critique. I assured her it was just what I needed. One thing led to another and less than a year later we were engaged.
To say that our respective friends were stunned is an understatement.
We left our hometown in 1962 with a backseat full of wedding presents and about $600 in cash. It’s been a helluva ride – through Omaha, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and adventures from the most remote parts of the world to the most glittering.
Through it all, I remain in awe of Meredith’s cool, centered inner compass as she pursued her own life at a comfortable distance from my network profile.
She’s been a successful New York businesswoman – Penny Whistle Toys – author of children’s books and a Montana cookbook – marathoner – trekker in Bhutan and northern Pakistan (without me) – board member of Gannett, Channel 13, Conservation International – expert horsewoman, even though she didn’t start riding until age 50 – expert bridge player – a cinema fanatic with her Flip camera – and peerless mother and grandmother to three daughters and four granddaughters.
If she has one flaw it is that her gossip radar is always on low power. People are drawn to her and even strangers will confide the most startling tidbits shortly after meeting her. She’s the perfect confidante because two or three weeks later, when the tidbit blows up into a major story on Page Six, Meredith will look at me and say, “Oh, I knew that. I guess I forgot to tell you.”
When we visited the Dalai Lama in northern India he gave her a ring but she didn’t run off with him, so I guess Meredith still has hope for me after that long-ago letter.