By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
Dan Rather shared many stories from his more than 60 years in journalism – including time as anchor of the CBS Evening News and as a correspondent for 60 Minutes – before a sold-out audience Wednesday (April 18) in the finale of the 2018 Broward College Speaker Series, sponsored by City & Shore magazine, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Among them were vivid recollections of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and famous people he’d interviewed – including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.
But the 86-year-old news veteran also had much to say about more recent events, including the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland – and how the subsequent student movement for gun control follows in an American tradition of civic activism.
“I cannot tell you, the depth of my admiration for the students at Parkland High School,” Rather said, “other than having tremendous respect for what the survivors have done – and how they’ve done it – for their fellow survivors who were injured and for the families of those who had people either hurt or worse.”
The movement they’ve begun, he said, “is a reminder that this is the ideal of an American citizen.
“Whatever you believe, be active in saying, ‘I believe this is good for the country, and I’m going to work to make it happen,’” he said. “In this role, the role of citizen, I suggest that you cannot, and must not, waver, get distracted or cower. You cannot, and must not, in your duties as a citizen, back up, back down or turn around.
“This is an hour of decision for the country,” he said. “And in that work, your duty as a citizen, that is, my friends, noble work.”
Rather then presented a list of goals for personal growth and development in life, based on “what I’ve learned from not just interviewing leaders around the world, but also witnessing some of history.” He called it ‘The Great Eight.’’
“They are not easy to learn, to remember and to apply in real-world daily practice, that’s true,” he said. “But if you strive constantly for them, not just today and tomorrow, but for a lifetime, you will make of yourself a better person.”
“1. To lead a noble life is to lead a life of service to others. And whoever you are, whatever your station, wherever you are in life, [that] should be your polar star.
“2. Six words are key: Humility, gratitude, modesty, forgiveness, mercy and, yes, love.
“3. There will be plenty of occasions when playing [with a] team, working collaboratively, don’t work, for one reason [or another]. What I’ve learned traveling around, and this is particularly true of leaders, but not confined to these, [that you have to be] prepared to invoke the 10 magic words, when the big chips are on the table, when everything’s at stake, when nothing seems to work, the 10 magic words are: ‘if it is to be, it is up to me.’ There are times in life, when it’s necessary to suck it up and say, ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me.’
“4. Learn by heart and take to heart this: hearts can inspire other hearts with their fire. The fire can be in the open for all to see or it can be deep within, not easily known to anyone but yourself.
“5. The most successful people I’ve met, the people who are most satisfied with their lives, the best leaders, all tend to be excellent listeners. They don’t just hear. They listen. And I would suggest, gently, that if you want to make of yourself a life-time learner, and an even better person and ever better worker, improve your listening habits and skills.
“6. The best learners and workers, and certainly the best leaders, are generally strong communicators. They tend to be accomplished at public speaking, as well as small groups, person-to-person groups, as well as large groups. [He recommended How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.]
“7. Successful people, good learners, workers and especially leaders, generally know how to write well. Short form as well as long, everything from personal notes and letters to policy papers. (He recommended Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style).
“8. [Successful people have] trained themselves to think critically and analytically. It’s been my experience over the years that it is the mark of the most successful people, the people who get the most out of life, and particularly good leaders.”
Before taking questions from the audience, Rather made a small confession about the state of his hearing – which led to the following recollection of Betsy Cronkite, wife of broadcast legend Walter Cronkite, who Rather succeeded on the CBS Evening News in 1981 – which brought the house down.
“My hearing is not nearly what it once was. I lost about 40 percent of my hearing in Vietnam, and age has taken care of the rest,” he said. “So if I’m not able to make out the questions very clearly, I may have to ask you to repeat it.
“And it reminds me of a quick story. I would not tell this story, except for the fact that Mrs. Walter Cronkite really loved to tell it. You know, Walter lived well into his 90s, and in his later years, he had a lot of hearing problems.
“They loved to sail, and they were sailing off Martha’s Vineyard and they were having some guests one Saturday afternoon. And Mrs. Cronkite said to Walter, ‘we need to go into the store to resupply.’ So they took the dinghy over [to Martha’s Vineyard], but it was Saturday afternoon and the store was completely busy, and of course everybody wanted to shake hands with Walter Cronkite. You know, people saying, ‘I’ve watched you all my life and I admire you,’ and ‘do you remember so-and-so?’ and ‘do you know so-and-so?’
“Anyway, it took a very long time to get up to the cashier. They finally get up to the cashier and Mrs. Cronkite thinks – whew! – we’re finally through all of that. When one last gentleman came out of the crowd and came to Walter and said, ‘Walter, do you know so-and-so-and-so?’ And Walter took himself up to his full almost-six feet and said, ‘well, I can’t say that I know him, but I have met him and he’s a very fine fellow. Thank you very much.’
“And they get outside, and Mrs. Cronkite says, ‘Walter, we have to do something about your hearing. That man asked you, do you know Jesus?’”
– Mark Gauert is the editor of City & Shore magazine, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read our full interview with Dan Rather, by Sun Sentinel Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, at http://www.cityandshore.com/departments/in-the-city-3/dan-rather-looking-ahead-optimistically/