Well, that's it. Andy Rooney has retired from "60 Minutes." Now, in celebration of this remarkable career, my own list -- in epigrammatic style, in honor thereof -- of why I've loved the guy. It's largely a personal as opposed to professional celebration because in my ocassional guise as a TV reporter, I have known him over a number of years.
The list is in no particular order, and not researched at all. It's right off the top of my head, and just a list. If you have a problem with it, send your letter of complaint to c/o: Mr. A. Rooney, 524 W. 57th St., NY, NY.
So let's get started. I loved -- and of course still do -- the guy...
... because he was so honest. Rooney doesn't have phony bone in his body. He wouldn't know what to do with a phony bone if he had one -- probably point out to people that he does in fact have one phony bone, so beware of that one.
... because he was so intensely loyal. Rooney is loyal to people, places, things. I imagine there was much agony the day -- not so long ago, in fact -- that he finally relinquished his old typewriter for a computer keyboard. His small circle of friendships have endured over a half a century, broken up only by death.
... because he was married to the same woman, Margie, for more than 60 years. She died a few years ago, but I could never think of her without imagining that she must have had the patience of a saint.
... because he hated war. Andy truly did and does.He was utterly predictable on the theme. His revulsion dated back to the Second World War -- he was a pacifist who got drafted -- and even got him in a famous fight in the early '70s with CBS. The network wouldn't air an essay he did on war, so he quit and took it to PBS, which did. Andy knew his subject better than most -- he covered WW II for Stars and Stripes, the fine Army newspaper.
... because he's the last tie to a network news division, CBS, that truly was one of the world's leading broadcast news organizations.
... because he's one of the very last ties to the earliest days of a news magazine that was and is a TV treasure. (Andy did work for "60" in the early days of the late '60s.)
... because he loves newspapers. Rooney is one of the world's greatest supporters of newspapers. He subscribes to them, he reads them, he promotes them. They were the subject of a wonderful essay a couple of years ago. He sees in newspapers what far too many appear to have forgotten -- the vital role they've played in our democracy, and so much more.
... because he's written brilliantly on war. You might not realize this from his TV work, but Rooney was a stellar war correspondent who turned his observations into an number of very fine books on warfare -- including one he co-wrote with a pal right after the war on the bombing runs he took over Europe. His more recent effort, "My War," is one of the best books of its type ever written, and can stand a shelf, unbowed and unashamed, next to something like Philip Caputo's "A Rumor of War."
... because he was a member of the "greatest generation" -- Tom Brokaw's phrase for an entire generation of men and women who emerged from the catastrophic Depression to win a catastrophic war. Some critics like to put an asterisk next to the GG for its treatment of African-Americans during the war, and it belongs there, but not next to Rooney's name; he was once jailed for sitting with a black soldier on a bus.
... because he always called me "Gay." "Hello, Gay," he'd say when I would call. I'm reasonably certain he called me Gay because he could never remember my first name.
... because he always returned my calls. Nothing pleases a beat writer more than when a source returns a call. Not that Andy was ever a good source. "I don't know why you're calling, Gay. I don't know anything." He was right. He didn't.
... because he never pretended to be nice, even though some people wrongly assume he is. Not that he is malicious, but he can be mean -- and he pretty much warns people that he is. I think people mistook his humor for "nice" which was a fatal misreading of what he often had to say.
... because he cared more about the written word than the spoken one on TV. Certainly he was proud of his TV work, but I always believed he was much prouder of his columns or books. He was a writer.
... because he's such a fine writer. Rooney has the rare ability to write exactly what he means and mean exactly what he writes. He believes in short declarative sentences, with the subject first followed by the verb. Nothing fancy for Rooney; he probably picked this up from his days as a war writer, but it freed him to explore myriad other subjects. I'd like to think I learned something from Rooney, even if I do remain uncertain in its application. (See what I mean?)
Good luck, Mr. Rooney -- you don't mind if I call you "Mr. Rooney," do you? I'm sure we'll see you on the air again, and soon.