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Mike Wallace remembered at packed memorial

Mike Wallace, who died April 7, 2012, at

Mike Wallace, who died April 7, 2012, at the age of 93, in a 2001 file photo. 60 Minutes" will devote its entire hour to Mike Wallace on Sunday. Credit: CBS / Peter Freed

Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" newsman who died April 7, was remembered Tuesday morning at a packed theater off Columbus Circle as a ferocious competitor with a big heart who shaped a career and landmark news program through sheer, inimitable force of will.

"His very being demanded attention and it was seldom denied," said "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft.

At turns feisty, funny and moving, the portrait of Wallace by colleagues, family and friends -- his tribute was in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Andy Rooney was also memorialized just months ago -- would have been instantly recognized by longtime "60 Minutes" viewers.

"He was a tough cookie, our Mike," said Morley Safer, who effectively bunked next door to Wallace for 40 years at "60 Minutes' " headquarters on West 57th Street. "He was a one-man truth squad. A contrarian, in public and private life."

Far from one of those affairs that attested to the good deeds of a kind and gentle soul, Wallace's memorial had the sting, bite and edge of the man himself. Friends, even his own son, Chris, recalled someone who grabbed stories and boldface-name interviews with a bravura that bordered on ruthlessness and occasionally exceeded it.

Upon joining "60 Minutes," Kroft was warned by Dan Rather of the "big cats" at "60" who with "one swing of their paw" would leave a victim maimed for months. "Wallace," Kroft recalled ruefully, "was the biggest cat."

The tribute was also moving, though perhaps not unexpectedly so. Chris Wallace, moderator of "Fox News Sunday," took the stage in the final minutes to observe that one of the benefits of his father's long life -- he died at age 93 -- was that they had the time to "find our way to each other."

They once had a strained relationship, or as the younger Wallace put it, "there was an underlying tension" as he struggled to get out from "under his shadow." The breach was mended some time ago when "he tracked me down every night to ask me how I was doing. . . . That's how we became father and son."

In recent years, suffering from Alzheimer's, Mike Wallace was living in a convalescence home in New Canaan, Conn., where the trademark ferocity had melted away into the fog of dementia.

"But what was left was the essential person," said his son, as his voice broke. "What was left was a sweet and gentle man."

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