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What Barbara Walters means to me

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.
May 13, 2013 1:53:41 PM PDT
It's been a while since I felt nervous on air. I remember the big times when I was. Three of them stand out.

I was anchoring in Los Angeles, and the first time I had to report breaking news a famous Rabbi was shot and killed in New York ? and it had to be all done in 15 seconds, and I felt as if my heart was pounding up my throat and out my mouth.

I also remember feeling that way the first time I subbed for Charlie Gibson, hosting Good Morning America. I was convinced everyone ? including co-host Joan Lunden - could see my heart pounding through my suit jacket. Heck, I could see it!

And the other heart-pounding-in-my-throat moment I remember was an on-set segment I taped, it wasn't even live TV. It was my first story on 20/20, in 1997, and I found myself sitting next to Barbara Walters, for what we called the "post-chat" of the packaged story ? you know, when Hugh Downs and Barbara would welcome the reporter after the story and then ask a question or two. It was a brief discussion although compared to the fast-fast-fast pace of things today, it wasn't. I think we got a good minute or two to discuss the story.

Earlier, Barbara had asked me several questions about my story, so I knew what she was interested in and I knew I'd better be ready with a dang-good answer come show time to any of the questions she threw at me.

I was.

But that didn't matter to my heart. We watched the story as it was airing "live to tape" ? me, Barbara and Hugh. They liked the story, and then we got ready to come on camera after the package. "Three, two, one," said the floor manager. "And Bill Ritter is here now?. "

I was told I answered the question really well a little wit, some insight that I didn't already discuss in the package and I'm told Barbara and Hugh really liked what I had to say. But I'll be danged if I remember anything about the tag except what seemed like the 90-decibel thump-thump, thump-thump of my heart.

That was the first and last time I felt like that around Barbara. I've been thinking about her, and her big impact on my life (like her big impact on so many journalists' lives), after her announcement that this tireless mentor and friend would be retiring a year from this summer.

You don't need me to highlight her groundbreaking career the first woman to do just about everything big in TV news but it's not just the news she broke or the headlines she made that I'll remember. It's her big heart to those she worked with. Barbara was always the first to offer me counsel or critiques. She was at all times sharp about my stories never hesitant to make the reports better, or my writing crisper ? and she was at all times there for me when she thought I needed her.

When I got divorced, and it made the papers, Barbara was the first to call me. Whatever I needed, she said ? a dinner, a party, anything. How can I not love her for that alone?

So while the notion of an 83-year-old woman announcing she's going to retire when she's 84 doesn't exactly herald a stop-the-presses moment, it does surprise me a bit. Barbara was always the hardest working person in the building, and the idea of her not being on TV, not being on ABC, seems so foreign and strange.

It will be a grand last year. Much love to our friend, to my friend, Barbara Walters.

That's the backbeat (as compared to the pounding heartbeat) as we prepare our 11 p.m. newscast. We'll have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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