Peter Jennings

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(HOST) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore was a close friend and colleague of ABC anchorman Peter Jennings, who died of lung cancer on Sunday. This morning, Dunsmore reflects on that 40-year relationship.

(DUNSMORE) Peter never tired of teasing me about how I got my job at ABC in 1965 by waylaying him in a hotel parking lot in Tor- onto and thrusting my audition tape into his car as he was racing for a plane to New York. Like all such stories, it’s basically true – but short on some important details.

One: He had asked for the tape. We had worked together for the CTV network before he went to the U. S., and ABC was then look- ing for young reporters. And Two: the reason he was in Toronto was to host the Miss Canada Pageant where he had to sing and dance. As I often reminded him, he was no Bert Parks.

Through wars, summit meetings, marriages and divorces, Peter and I shared hotel rooms, apartments and television studios around the world. Everyone in the business agreed that nobody was better in front of a television camera. But, of course, there was very much more to the man than that.

Peter could be a nitpicker. I mean that both figuratively and literal- ly. I’d be all dressed up ready to go out, and he would come and flick some imaginary piece of dust or dirt from my lapel and straighten my tie. I would sometimes wonder if he was trying to remind me of my flaws, or if he really just wanted me to look good. I think it was probably a bit of both – for one of the things about Peter Jennings was that he was never satisfied. He always wanted to know more, to travel more, to meet new people and to get more airtime to report on the world that so captivated him.

Peter could be a harsh critic of other people’s works, including that of his friends. But he was even harsher on himself. It was this re- lentless drive for perfection which propelled him to the very top of a field not known for its shrinking violets. But one of his more en- dearing qualities was the way he treated people outside the busi- ness. He would give due deference to both prince and pauper, but showed more interest in the pauper.

When we worked and lived together in Rome and Beirut, Peter would go out of his way to get to know everybody in the neighbor- hood – the flower sellers, the waiters or even the street sweepers. He had this unique ability to give them his full attention and make them feel he was truly interested in them, which indeed, for that moment, he was. This quality of caring was evident as he calmly talked millions of Americans through every major news event in the past 20 years.

There will be time later to discuss Peter’s legacy and the implica- tions of his passing on the future of television news. But, for now, it’s enough to note that many millions of people apparently share some of my sadness at having lost a dear friend.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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