Thousands pay their respects to Russert

Thousands of friends, colleagues and strangers joined President Bush and his wife in paying respects on Tuesday to broadcaster Tim Russert.

Several hundred people were in line more than an hour before the early-afternoon start of the wake at St. Albans School, an elite private boys school on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral in Washington. Many had never met the host of the Sunday-morning talk show “Meet the Press.”

But some felt like they knew him, nonetheless.

“It's just like a family member that's gone,” said Mary Jo Quinn, who had traveled from Russert's hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to the Washington area for a wedding over the weekend. She and her husband extended their trip so they could attend the wake.

Russert, who was also the Washington bureau chief for NBC News, died Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. His son, Luke, is a graduate of the school where the wake was held.

Russert was a political insider who was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington's most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue-collar roots.

He often talked of growing up in Buffalo, home to his beloved Bills of the National Football League.

“He walked with kings, but he never forgot his roots,” said Quinn, who was standing in line with a Buffalo Bills T-shirt draped over her shoulders.

Bush, accompanied by the first lady, was one of the first people to enter the closed-casket wake. The president stayed about 20 minutes while the growing crowd outside waited.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat whose district includes part of the Buffalo area, said the loss is keenly felt in Russert's hometown.

A private funeral has been scheduled for this morning, to be followed by an invitation-only memorial service at Washington's Kennedy Center in the afternoon.