WASHINGTON – It’s a little messy for a memorial. It’s a desk filled with papers and magazines, with a Pellegrino bottle off to the side and a big plaque on the front that says “Thou shalt not whine,” surrounded by mementos of a life that took a young man from South Buffalo to the corridors of power in the nation’s capital and beyond.
It’s the office of the late Tim Russert, and hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, have seen it over the last 4¼ years at the Newseum, the capital’s mammoth tribute to a free press.
And now it’s coming home to the city the late NBC newsman loved so much.
Starting this fall, Russert’s office will be on permanent display at the Buffalo History Museum, Rep. Brian Higgins announced Tuesday.
“I think it will be very popular,” said Higgins, who worked for nearly a year with the Russert family to ensure that the exhibit would be moved to the hometown of the late “Meet the Press” host. “It’s great for the museum district.”
Russert’s son, Luke, said the family hopes the exhibit will be up and running in Buffalo by September, giving the city a fitting memorial to one of its favorite sons.
“It’s a great final resting place for the embodiment of his career, which is that office,” said Luke Russert, a correspondent for NBC News. “It captures the history of him growing up in South Buffalo and interviewing popes and presidents and everything in between.”
Higgins said he first became interested in moving the display to Buffalo after he visited the exhibit about two years ago. Talking with the Newseum curator, he learned that the Russert exhibit was a temporary one that would eventually have to be moved to accommodate other exhibits.
Other locales – including John Carroll University in Cleveland, Tim Russert’s alma mater – wanted to host the display. But Higgins and the Russert family agreed that it belonged in Buffalo.
“People in Buffalo just identified with him,” Higgins said. “He represents what Buffalo is all about.”
Luke Russert agreed, saying: “I’m always just floored by how people remember him and are so appreciative of everything he did for the city, and I think that would be one of his proudest lasting legacies: that they remember him as the ultimate hometown guy. That’s why I’m really happy it’s going back there and that we were able to make it work. I think it’s wonderful for the city, as well.”
The office is vintage Russert, featuring family mementos and an award from Post 721, American Legion, in South Buffalo. The bookshelves are filled with an eclectic collection of volumes ranging from “Safire’s Political Dictionary” to a 4-inch-thick “Encyclopedia of Catholicism” to “Rockin’ the Rockpile.”
“They did a remarkable job of capturing what it was like on the last day he was alive,” Luke Russert said. “Papers are on the desk; they even have a Pellegrino bottle and all these pictures and whatnot.”
Russert said the exhibit will be expanded when it moves to Buffalo in order to highlight his father’s formative years in South Buffalo and his time as a political aide before moving into television.
“We want to localize it a little bit,” Luke Russert said.
Tim Russert, who died of cardiac arrest in June 2008, was a popular figure, meaning a tribute that showed how he worked would prove to be popular, too, said Jonathan Thompson, a Newseum spokesman. “It provides people with the opportunity to connect with someone they feel they spent a number of years with,” Thompson said.
Despite the exhibit’s popularity, the Newseum always planned to host it only on a temporary basis.
Looking back now, though, Thompson said: “We will be sad to see it go.”