Tom Brokaw, the last of the "Big Three" anchors still working at the network that launched his career, announced his retirement Friday. Brokaw — who turns 81 on Feb. 6 — has been with NBC since 1966.
In a statement, he said "During one of the most complex and consequential eras in American history, a new generation of NBC News journalists, producers and technicians is providing America with timely, insightful and critically important information, 24/7. I could not be more proud of them."
Brokaw's recent on-air appearances have mostly been on MSNBC's "Morning Joe,'' and those largely confined to two-minute "columns'' about his observations on American life. He now lives full time in Montana.
Brokaw — along with CBS' Dan Rather and ABC's Peter Jennings, who died in 2005 — was once a member of the most elite club in broadcast journalism, as anchor of "Nightly News" over 22 years until his departure from the broadcast in 2004. Afterward, he became NBC's ambassador-at-large — contributor to many broadcasts, wise elder, and conscience of an entire network. So considerable was his renown that after he was accused of sexual harassment by former NBC anchor Linda Vester in 2018, 115 NBC colleagues — including Rachel Maddow, Mika Brzezinski, Andrea Mitchell and Maria Shriver — signed a letter attesting to his integrity.
A native of South Dakota, he began his career at the NBC Sioux City, Iowa, affiliate KTIV in 1960, and after a couple of stops at stations in Omaha and Atlanta, joined NBC News as a Los Angeles-based correspondent and anchor of KNBC's 11 p.m. news. A couple of years later, in 1973, he was named White House correspondent, then, in 1976, co-host of "Today." The "Nightly'' run began in 1982 — an awkward start because NBC had wanted to recapture the omnipotence of the "Huntley/Brinkley Report'' by pairing Brokaw with Roger Mudd on the anchor desk. By 1983, Brokaw would be solo.
At first an also-ran, Brokaw's "Nightly'' would in time become the evening news leader. Like his rivals, he was itinerant, and often away from the anchor desk, also appearing on other networks, especially CBS. A long time favorite guest of David Letterman, he was on the inaugural edition of "Late Show" and many times after.
Also like Rather and Jennings, he would spend hours — then days — on the air during and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But arguably as memorable — certainly as indelible — as the "Nightly" run was his off-air career as author. "The Greatest Generation," published in 1998, bound Brokaw to an entire cohort: Veterans of World War II. It also launched a side career, as sequels and memoirs followed.
He saluted his beloved "greatest generation" in his final "Nightly," on Dec. 1, 2004, saying in part, "They did not give up their personal beliefs and greatest passions, but they never stopped learning from each other and most of all, they did not give up on the idea that we're all in this together, we still are."
In its statement announcing his retirement, NBC said "Brokaw will continue to be active in print journalism, authoring books and articles, and spend time with his wife, Meredith, three daughters and grandchildren."
In 2013, Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and later produced a "Dateline" story on his battle, "My Life Interrupted." In a 2016 interview with Newsday, he said, "my cancer is in remission — not cured, and won't be, unless they find some miracle cure. But it can be treated. It has affected my physique and had a lot more spinal damage, taking three inches from my height. But I'm riding my bike, swimming more, and doing the best I can under the circumstances. I don't wake up thinking, 'I've got cancer,' but I do wake up knowing I have to take a fistful of pills, including for chemotherapy."
On his last appearance on NBC's air, on Dec. 30, Brokaw summed up a remarkable career but offered no hint that it might be coming to an end:
"For me, an amazing journey. 57 years as a reporter. As a young reporter in Omaha, I broke into local programming with a bulletin. President Kennedy had been assassinated, and for the next 57 years, I covered the seismic events that roiled our world. But none were as catastrophic as this pandemic. This is America's greatest test since the Civil War. We still have miles to go and no assurances of just how it will all turn out."